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How an online community can drive innovation

How an online community can drive innovation

The pressure on organisations to innovate, challenge and self-disrupt is intense. And not without cause. Transformative forces are working on our markets and our societies at an exhausting pace. Sitting in the status quo will consign you to history, and the effort can seem overwhelming. But you don’t have to do it alone. In fact, you may have a secret weapon at your disposal.

If you’ve built a community as part of your business (internally or externally), you may have a ‘partner-in-waiting’ for innovation; a rich resource of the energy, perspectives, and focus you need to build a culture of restless reinvention.

Diverse voices, new ideas for innovation

If the last five years have taught us anything, it’s that filter bubbles can be deadly. If you’re trying to do things differently, it helps to see things differently. Even a commitment to challenging your assumptions can be, well, challenging, if you don’t have the means to turn the box upside down.

The beauty of community is built-in diversity. An invested group of people from diverse backgrounds, with different stories and experiences, is a necessary, important corrective for our comfort zones.

Research powerfully demonstrates that diverse teams build better products. Work with your community to unlock new ways to solve problems, hidden problems you can help solve, and the new business opportunities that come with them.

Accountability to get it done

If it’s not met with commitment over time, innovation quickly becomes a one-off campaign or a limp performance goal. Communities have a clarifying effect. The accountability and transparency that binds them helps hold your feet to the flame and ensures you’re focusing on what matters most.

Even the most disciplined among us can sometimes shrug it off as too hard. The inter-dependence of relationships in a community creates intrinsic motivation to follow through. We don’t want to let the group down, and their expectation builds commitment to the journey of innovation – not just the mission statement.

Increase power through scale

The networked effects of a community can help scale victories and diffuse setbacks. Decentralisation can improve collaboration and performance, as information, knowledge and resources are more widely available.

Tap into existing community flows to fast-track learning and iteration. Connections and outcomes can happen faster, not slowed down by artificial hierarchies well known to inhibit innovation.

There are still natural leaders and people who take on specific roles within the community; there is still structure and focus. But a social network free to move horizontally can accelerate a good idea and shut down a problem with heightened efficiency, free of vertical red tape.

Empathy and understanding

The best innovation has a human centre. Successful innovation cultures keep people at their core.

To create ideas that will be transformative, we need to understand the innate value they’ll deliver – and to do that we need to understand what matters innately to our customers or audience.

Leaning into the connections of community helps build our capacity for empathy and our understanding of those we’re trying to serve – or who share our desire to serve.

Don’t be the business mocked on social media for how out of touch they are with their market. Be the one people think read their minds because they got it uncannily right.

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