Just yesterday, I wrote about Google's efforts to involve users more directly in product development via its Google Labs site, by adding new features such as an RSS feed, an iGoogle widget, and the ability to comment on and rate projects. Involving outsiders this way brings in the kinds of diverse and honest viewpoints that aren't always easy to obtain in corporate environments -- even ones as famously loosey-goosey as Google. Dell is another company that actively seeks and implements user input, on its IdeaStorm site.
The idea is gaining plenty of momentum in mainstream circles. And only a short decade (sarcasm intended) after Doc Searls and friends wrote The Cluetrain Manifesto.
All but one of Peter Birley's seven tips for generating and gathering new ideas included in a silicon.com column involve working with folks outside the corporate walls. (The sole exception is a suggestion to create an internal innovation portal where employees are encouraged to submit ideas.) A few of them:
- Examine the places where customers and business processes meet, such as placing and accepting orders, for ideas on how to improve them. (This reinforces the idea that innovation isn't always about coming up with the "next big thing." Perfecting existing processes is pretty darned innovative, as Gartner pointed out last month.
- Create an innovation portal for clients where they can offer opinions on and ideas for improving products and services. (It's also a good idea to monitor channels like Twitter and Facebook to find out what customers and others are saying about you.)
- Don't ignore old-school channels like conferences. They're still good places to gather ideas. (Face-to-face contact is so '90s, but there's still no real substitute for it.)