Big Bets, No Limits, Open Source – How Tech Giants Flip the Process using Community Innovation

March 10, 2014 Appirio


I have a simple rating scale for blog posts

There’s the ones that you read that sort of suck a few minutes out of your life. Not much different than overhearing a conversation between your dad and his best friend about their jean shorts.

Then there are the posts that catch you. They explain something new. Perhaps they frame something you already know in a fresh new way. You enjoy them. You wish you wrote them.

The last category are the mind-blowing ones. The simplest way to categorize these is to bucket them as the ones you just don’t forget. You wish you had the skills to write them.

Masters of their own destiny

This week, Gigaom’s Om Malik posted one of the latter types. At least as far as I’m concerned. It’s an excerpt from an article he wrote for Fast Company. The article is Masters of Their Own Destiny – Why Today’s Giants Build the Tech They Need To Stay On Top.

“Facebook didn’t have designs on the $55 billion server market. It took matters in its own hands and ended up creating a competitor that Dell, HP, and IBM didn’t see coming. Facebook, thanks to its sheer size and complexity, is the standard-bearer for the data-rich, highly networked future of information. When it designs machines to handle its workloads, it’s creating the next-generation server. The big-hardware makers let the tail wag the dog.”

Focusing on Facebook, Yahoo, Google, Apple, and Amazon – Om explains how silicon valley’s darlings have never relied on status quo. These giants have the means – and more importantly, the motive – to push the industry where it needs to be. Never resting on where it innovation

“Setting up an engineering team and paying $278 million in 2008 to buy a microprocessor design firm is a bargain if it helps you produce quarterly profits in the billions.”

Therein lies the rub

It’s easy to look at the winners, especially the ones that continually win, and monday-morning quarterback their strategy. These giants gamble with numbers that would destroy the average business. Looking past that, it becomes clear that it’s not the size of the bet that is important. These giants bet big because they can and because they have to. That doesn’t mean the strategy doesn’t apply to any sized organization. As Om puts it:

“Every market is ripe for upheaval, competition can come from anywhere, and today’s customer could very well be the one who knocks you from your perch. Think back to just 15 years ago when the likes of Cisco, Dell, HP, Intel, and Oracle got big supplying the backbone of Internet computing. Their incumbency meant they had to serve the needs of a lot of customers, which slowed them down. And as the metabolism of change in the Internet era has sped up, they couldn’t keep pace.”

The strategy is on point – and I just love that phrase: metabolism of change.

Then the story takes a unique twist

“Facebook, too, open-sourced its server designs so anyone else could copy and adapt them for their needs. Why would Yahoo and Facebook take what looked like a competitive edge and set it free? The hacker ethos is part of their business thinking: Sharing is in, and, hey, if people tinker with your idea, that’s free R&D.”

These companies are refusing to rest on status quo and they’re taking it upon themselves to innovate. When appropriate they’re also taking it a step further and asking a global community of expertise to help. Even at the cost of owning IP.

The key to keeping it all fresh is flipping the innovation process. If the normal process is to start internally, generate ideas, then turn to expertise for help, try the opposite. Remove ego, extend your reach beyond your four walls, and tap into a global network of fresh minds to kickstart new thinking. Community innovation is a proven and real way to drive results from the outside in.

The world is going to continue to drive innovation at its own pace. Organizations and business leaders that want to drive internal innovation are simply faced with a choice to ignore or harness that creative energy.

“The strategy today is simple: In order to move fast, build what you can’t buy or risk losing control of your fate and becoming the next Palm, Motorola, or HTC. And if, in the process, you disrupt an Oracle or a Qualcomm? So be it.”

Disrupt yourself with community or be disrupted by the external community

Jeff Bezos originally considered calling his company Go ahead and give that link a click. See where it takes you. If necessity is the mother of invention, it’s time to take necessity into our own hands, tapping into the world’s top technical expertise when possible to push the limits of what’s possible.


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