IF11: The Secrets to Using Digital Tools to Spur Innovation

IF11: The Secrets to Using Digital Tools to Spur Innovation

Collaboration is critical for sustainable innovation, and there's no shortage of digital tools to help people and their companies make the connection, FMYI President Justin Yuen told attendees at the GreenBiz Innovation Forum.

It's important to select a tool that helps your business achieve its goals. Cool tools are good, but it's essential to avoid getting mired in a tool's cool factor and losing sight of your objective.

"To me, it's always about the people, not certain technology," Yuen said. "The focus really starts on knowing the audience you want to reach, the information you want to share, but most importantly, the action you want to come out of it.

"Obviously there's many, many tools to communicate with folks. There's websites, email, discussion forums -- but my main interest is: How do you bring people together to create action?"

Yuen offered his insights as the founder of social collaboration software company FMYI (it stands for For My Information). His firm creates private social networks for firms and organizations that are interested in connecting people for work-related purposes and specific goals.

He started the company almost eight years ago in Oregon, following a career at Nike where he managed corporate sustainable development. His goal was to build a business with "minimum environmental impact and maximum societal value." Central to that aim, he said, are two key principles:

1. Collaboration is at the heart of sustainability. Collaboration must occur to fully realize sustainability.

2. Innovation requires implementation of ideas and taking action. Ideas are not worth anything unless they are put into action.

The company and Yuen have been wildly successful; FMYI is one of Oregon's fastest growing private firms and Yuen's accolades include being named to the list of 2011 Pivotal Leaders in cleantech. The company's clients have included Aflac, HBO, Hyatt, Sony, Target, Office Depot, Fox, Macy's, Disney and more than 10,000 others. Drawing from that experience, Yuen's advice included tips on:

Suitability

Sites that work well for teenagers aren't likely to be suitable for the working world. Usability is the key, Yuen said, and the only way to determine that is through vigorously testing the site or the tool.

Overcoming Barriers to Use and Adoption

Sometimes there's a fear factor associated with digital tools. "My lens has always been 'Oh, it's software --  just another piece of software that should be easy to use,' " Yuen said. "Ideally, some of these tools would be embedded [in the work process], for example in day-to-day project management."

In using or presenting a tool, he said, "user adoption should be the No. 1 goal, that should influence the entire strategy."

Making the IT Department Your Friend

In large firms, IT departments "typically will have their preferred platforms," Yuen said, so the idea of using tools from other sources may not be welcomed initially. But if the idea can be presented as a pathway for staff members to connect with each other and people outside the company without placing a new burden on IT, the notion may be more acceptable. Or as Yuen put it, "less intimidating for IT."

In his talk, Yuen reeled off several examples of networking sites, types of digital tools and platforms for connection. Here are some of them:

Gamification, the use of game-thinking and mechanics to solve problems, can be a strong tool for green teams and for employee engagement in general. It can provide incentive for day-to-day activities as well as special events or initiatives.

• Going mobile is an opportunity to swiftly leverage the ideas of large groups of people in problem-solving efforts.

• Matching people's preferences and opinions to a solution that is right for them. As an example, Yuen pointed to Americans Elect 2012 at www.americanselect.org, which matches users' views of issues to those of political figures and enables the user to "nominate" a presidential candidate. "You can imagine how this can be leveraged with different stakeholders," he said.

• Finding a new way to fund projects. Kickstarter provides a funding platform for creative ideas of all kinds, Yuen said, and has been a powerful means to spread the word about new ventures, their purpose and their financial needs. Just ask Scott Wilson. Formerly Nike's design lead for watches, Wilson wanted to raise $15,000 in 30 days for his wristband that transforms iPod Nanos in wristwatches. He raised a little less than $1 million in a month for the products he calls TikToks and LunaTiks.

• Hyatt Earth, part of the hotel brand's Hyatt Thrive program, provides a way for hotel operators to connect with the company and each other on how make properties and their operations greener.
 

Photo by Goodwin Ogbuehi for GreenBiz Group, http://flickr.com/photos/yoshikatsu.