Seeking balance between work and life is so often on people’s minds. More enjoyable work could tip the balance a little towards more life.
Some principles to live by:
Eat good things.
Work at what you love.
Join the conversation.
Don’t go to bed with ideas buzzing around your head—share them.
Make your voice heard.
Contribute your ideas and help realize new opportunities.
Be transparent and engage everyone.
Be a team player—help your organization reach its goals.
If you work for an organization that embraces innovation, we think your work should be enjoyable, with software that’s easy to use and fits effortlessly into your day—whether in the office, on the subway, or at the beach. Innovation is a process everyone can enjoy. We’re happy to help.
Design Not Decoration
Design has been “misconstrued as decoration or as an embellishment.”
—Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator and Director of Research and Development, MoMA, in an interview.
It happens in many fields—whether in the production of a brochure, the renovation of an interior, or the building of an application feature—that “design” is often brought late to the table to prettify, decorate, or add “touch and feel” to something that was always already designed. Because the moment you begin to lay out the content, structure, and form of something, you are engaged in the act of design whether you know it or not and whether or not you are any good at it.
Bringing someone in later, after key decisions are made, someone with special competence in doing those things, to fix or make look good the outcome of those decisions, will almost always waste time, lead to deep frustration, and ultimately make it difficult to accomplish what you wanted to accomplish in the first place. Because design is about all those decisions, and making them at the right time—design is not “decorative sauce poured on top of content” (to paraphrase the photographer Stephen Shore).
It’s an incredible time to be building an enterprise software company. So many of the old problems and frustrations with this market are changing fast: purchasing gatekeepers are losing their power, buyers are valuing elegant interfaces, design is coming into play in the sales cycle (which is shrinking), people are expecting applications that require no training, previously complicated requirements such as authentication are being commoditized—the entire landscape is changing.
We’ve been predicting this massive disruption in the enterprise market and have been building a company in anticipation of a new order of enterprise software. We think we’re not alone. Slack had a great launch last month, and we’ll start seeing many more endeavors like this: a thoughtfully designed app attacking a specific portion of the enterprise market with consumer software sensibilities and an eye for design. It’s about time.
It’s easy to talk about idea management. It’s much harder to do it in practice. Including everyone in idea generation, in a way that is productive, takes effort. Collecting feedback on each idea can be tedious. But we know involving everyone in idea evaluation leads to better outcomes.
If implemented thoughtfully, you can remove a lot of the barriers, and reap the benefits. Let’s take an in-depth look at how we did both at my last company.
Engaging Everyone in Idea Generation
Within my first month of starting at AfterCollege, I knew I wanted to roll out an idea management solution. Our team was engaged. They cared a lot about the work that we were doing and I wanted to make sure that everyone had an opportunity to be heard.
Ah, January, the beginning of the New Year. The holidays are over, everything that happened in 2013 is the past, and we’re already almost into the second month of the year. Now is a time of reflection, new beginnings, and looking onward. A magical time of year for businesses as they now start anew.
While some may not see this similarity, for me, the New Year is like Spring Training in baseball. Everyone looks at the upcoming year with high aspirations and lofty goals for how they will perform. The signings during the offseason, the conditioning they did to prepare, and everyone coming back 100% healthy can invigorate a fresh outlook. For businesses, the start of the New Year is similar in that it comes with aspirations for high performance in the upcoming year, how they will grow, and how they will succeed in their market.
The challenge for both is execution.
What learnings from the past year will they try to use so they are not inhibited by the same types of roadblocks? For businesses, this is an opportunity to examine their innovation efforts and how to do better in 2014. Below are a few quick tips on how to make your innovation efforts even better in 2014.
1. Ask Your Teams How to Improve
In the latter end of last year and first couple of weeks in January, you probably spent a good portion of time reviewing 2013 performance and what 2014 should look like. The reality is that while many of the things you had set out for in the beginning of last year may have been achieved, there are probably a number of areas that did not do so well and need attention this upcoming year. Added reality, your business and/or the market may have changed, which also might be impacting how to focus your efforts for the upcoming year. While there will always be primary goals and metrics, i.e. profit, market growth, customer retention, etc., there are so many other factors that will contribute to your success.
In any innovation program, employee engagement is critical for success. Employees drive the ideas and discussion that lead to results. We posted recently about one way to keep participants engaged, with a responsive design that supports a user’s contributions from any device. This post focuses on another important way to keep engagement high, by making it easy for participants to sign in and reducing the friction that forgetting a username or password can create.
In 2013 we added three new methods for logging into Kindling: SAML, Google and Yammer authentication. Not only did we make it easier than ever to access Kindling, but we also integrated with many of the SaaS enterprises that are already part of your daily workflow. The key factor common to all of these integrations is that they enable you to take advantage of your already-existing identity stores. This means no work maintaining a separate user store for Kindling and easier access for Kindling participants, who can log in without having to keep track of yet another username and password. We’ve all seen that familiar “forgot your password” message and then either spent 5 minutes resetting the password or given up completely and moved onto another task. Since innovation software is dependent upon social interaction, it’s crucial to get this first step right. After all, you can’t crowdsource without the crowd!
SAML has become an industry standard for authentication and is growing in acceptance in enterprises. It is a secure mechanism for communicating login information between two parties, an ‘Identity Provider’, which manages the identity information for everyone at your organization, such as usernames and passwords, and a ‘Service Provider’, in this case Kindling. When a user logs in with SAML, behind the scenes, they are initiating communication between these parties to verify their identity and log them into Kindling. SAML doesn’t access your user information directly, instead, SAML only asks for verification of particular users. SAML bypasses issues of a direct connection to the server in a corporate network and this makes it more secure than LDAP or Active Directory.
There’s a fundamental law of web & application design: users will only click buttons that offer a clear payoff for themselves. No matter how much you as the designer want them to interact with something, or how amazing you think the interaction is, busy users will only do those things that deliver value for them.
With that in mind, tagging has always fascinated me. Systems that get tagging right are able to deliver to the user individual payoff. Examples of this are tagged photos in flickr that provide context and discoverability, tags in iPhoto that make it easier to find that great photo of your kid on vacation and tags in Pinboard to help organize your many digital bookmarks.
As an application designer, if you are able to tap into those individual motivations for tagging, and if your application is at some reasonable level of scale, some really interesting things can emerge. Imagine the effort to get hundreds of thousands of people to add metadata about Chelsea FC or a particular article? This rich set of contextual information emerges “for free” by leveraging the individual’s motivations.
Tagging and Media in Kindling
We’ve spent a lot of time this year building into Kindling support for media of all types, from pictures of whiteboards, to videos taken on phones or produced professionally. We’ve also focused on tapping into the individual motivations that allow tagging to proliferate — people can tag themselves with skills and interests to inform their profile and drive better recommendations as well as tag content to add context and make their ideas more easily found and tracked.
We live in a multi-device world where we spend our time in front of a variety of digital screens: laptops, projectors, plasma televisions, CRT monitors, retina LCDs, Hi-DPI smartphones, tablets, phablets, and more.
Placeholder image of devices
Choosing which device to use depends on context: where you are, how much time you have, and what you want to accomplish. Great ideas, however, don’t care about context. And they won’t wait until you’re sitting in front of your office computer to materialize.
At Kindling we understand this, which is why we’ve built a responsive web application that enables you to capture, share, and collaborate on innovative ideas no matter where you are or what electronic device you have available. Supporting multiple contexts through responsive design means more participation from users, which means more collaboration amongst people, which means better ideas for your organization. Everybody wins!
We write often on this blog about the actions that lead to long-term success with your innovation program, but this time we thought we’d share some of the common reasons we’ve seen that can contribute to failure.
Reason 1: Missing Feedback Loop
A lack of a feedback loop from decision-makers to participants is the most common contributor to the failure of an innovation program. Ensuring a feedback loop is therefore the best action you can take to sustain the program over months and years.
There’s a universal truth about people and their workday—they are tremendously busy. We see this consistently across all of our customers and prospects. And busy people full of ideas are willing to give a new innovation program a try. But then time passes. If decisions are not being made, and participants see that nobody is listening on the other end, people can sniff this out and determine that further participation is a waste of their time.
Busy people don’t have time to speak into the void, so they don’t. And as much as momentum drives participation on launch of the program, it can drag it down when there is no feedback loop from decision-makers.
The bottom line: if you’re going through the energy to launch an innovation program, follow through on the commitment you’re creating for your team and make sure to make decisions. No feedback loop means no sustainable innovation program.
Reason 2: Incompatible Culture
Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz around building a culture of innovation. Why all the focus? Can culture really drive the likelihood of success with an innovation program?
The topic of regulatory compliance may not exactly be exciting, but when one of our financial services customers came to us with the requirement of secure messaging of all user communication to a message vault, it became clear that the need to store electronic communications for business related purposes doesn’t just stop at email anymore. Many organizations have already started injecting other types of communications—ESNs like Salesforce Chatter or Yammer, for example—into their infrastructure and day-to-day business. Because of the regulations that govern certain industries, the obligation to store and archive these new types of message channels is just as important as more legacy types of communications, like email.
At Kindling, we love challenges and building tools and features to better serve the needs of our customers. When one of our financial services customers came to us with this requirement, I thought “Ah, I know how we can do that.” And we have an excellent platform to build from. Designing and implementing what we call our Vault Message Notification Service was pretty straightforward: we already had an extensive event architecture through which all messages flow, and we had a lot of experience with secure and redundant systems.