Connected

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What *is* it with R&D people?

Posted by Gia Lyons on November 8, 2007

IBM’s R&D people – at least the ones I know – are cool. I say this in part because they have no problem with sharing their ideas, their useful information sources, and some of their research findings via IBM’s various social software tools. Plus, they value the ideas and information sources of the larger IBM population.

In short, IBM R&D people “get it” when it comes to looking beyond their departments and divisions for innovative concepts, and creating trusted working relationships with we non-R&D folks.

If only my customers felt that way.

I just presented to a company’s R&D group at the Lotus Executive Briefing Center in Cambridge, MA, USA (I’m there about two or three times a month, singing the Connections love song to various customers).

Here’s how it went:

Me: [shared research findings about the four archetypes: Lovable Star, Incompetent Jerk, Competent Jerk, and Lovable Fool, then explain that social software can help you find more Lovable Stars, and avoid the Jerks] then… “At its core, social software is about generating trusted working relationships. It’s about looking beyond your immediate network for innovative ideas.”

Them: “It’s about getting the information from the Jerks without having to interact with them. That’s what I want.”

Me: “Uh… ok. You’re describing the old method of KM. Where experts were expected to input their expertise into a database so that others can find it and reuse it. [nodding heads from the audience] The problem is that this method makes knowledge sharing an extra chore, and many people simply stop doing it. The knowledge becomes stale because it’s not kept updated.” [thank you, Luis Suarez, for educating me through your blog about this!]

Them: “Yes.”

Me: “Uh… um… but social software isn’t just about sharing knowledge in a software tool. It’s about connecting individuals in a way that allows them to not only share explicit knowledge, but to form trusted relationships so that TACIT knowledge is shared on a continuing basis.”

Them: “But, that only helps one or two people. I can’t search for that. [Gia’s thought bubble: No sh!t Sherlock. That’s the point.] I need to apply metadata to the information so that I can perform sophisticated searches on it. Our GOAL, Gia, is to discover knowledge so that we can create new knowledge from it. And we can’t do that if all this knowledge you’re saying gets input into social software isn’t structured.

Me: [WTH?!?] “okaaaay…”

Them: “Look at Wikipedia. It’s structured, it’s social, and it works.”

Me: [I cannot believe this guy] “Wikipedia isn’t social networking software. Putting up a website and giving the world Editor access isn’t true collaboration, unless those people actually WORK with each other, TALK to each other to create the knowledge together.

“What goes on BEHIND THE SCENES between the core members of Wikipedia editors is what I’m talking about. THAT is the innovative collaboration that occurs when trusted relationships flourish. People who are not co-located must depend on social networking software to discover one another, learn about each other, and use MANY tools to communicate (email, IM, phone, face-to-face, wikis, Activities, teamspaces).”

Them: [one guy has his arms crossed, leaning back with a frown; other guy has an ‘undecided’ look on his face; the one woman in the crowd is leaning forward, smiling, nodding] “Hmph.”

The crotchity guy gets up and leaves – he has an appointment (we knew about this from the beginning).

The remaining guy starts shooting darts at me about all the missing collaboration features of Lotus Connections Communities v1, then challenges me:

“How do you solve THAT problem? I can’t even collaborate in this.”

Earlier in our conversation, I had acknowledged these shortcomings and stated that our R2 plans remedy it. Twice.

Me: [internal eye roll] “Like I said, we don’t have it today. You are right. But, here is what we’re planning for R2.” [show them a screenshot and explain it.]

Them: [placated] “Ah, ok. But, we need to be able to apply metadata to all that unstructured forum content.”

Me: I trot out the fact that you can create your own forms, complete with as much metadata as you’re willing to impose on your people, in Quickr and Notes applications – they’re a longtime QuickPlace and Domino customer.

Them: “Yeah, yeah, we know what we can do today. I want to know how to do it in Connections.”

Me: [looking for a sharp stick with which to poke myself in the eye, since that would be more fun at this point] “This kind of feedback is what our development team would enjoy hearing. How about we set up a meeting?”

Them: “Yeah, sure. Ok.”

I’ve presented to four different R&D groups, and only one of them “gets” social networking software. The rest simply poo-poo the idea that anyone other than themselves could be innovative.

So, help me out here. How can I communicate the value of Lotus Connections to R&D teams? I’m not doing a very good job of it, and I need to get better.

2 Responses to “What *is* it with R&D people?”

  1. Sharon Greenfield said

    Haha…I’m so sorry to laugh at your obvious pain. But it’s so typical, it inevitably becomes funny.

    Oy vaysmeer, as my grandmother used to say.

    Well it seems you’ve answered the problem – they don’t understand what social networking software is according to your definition. And from there, they don’t understand how your product is differentiated/better/has more value, etc. than the next given your definition.

    So maybe incorporate that into the intro? Something along the lines of “When I say ‘social networking software’, I mean the integral relationships and community built utilizing technology, which is not to be confused with something like wikipedia which is just an open editable website wherein many of the users never interact.”

  2. Gia Lyons said

    Sharon, funny mention that. I have incorporated a slide at the very beginning of my presentation, positioning Social Networking vs. Collaboration. I think I might need to add “Knowledge Management” to that slide. It’s all about defining the buzz words up front now…

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