Using Analytics to Ignite Innovation Among Employees

Using Analytics to Ignite Innovation Among Employees
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We can all grasp the power that data has in enabling employees to make better-informed decisions. But, what if data could do more than that? Imagine the impact that could be felt if the terabytes of information collected on a daily basis were harnessed to actually spawn innovation – not only in the product team or the marketing department – but in every single employee across your organization?

Pixar’s “Toy Story” showed us the beauty that could arise by intertwining two things previously considered to be at odds – art and technology. “The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art,” said John Lasseter, Pixar’s chief creative officer. It’s not one or the other, but the braiding of the two that gave birth to the first feature-length computer-animated film.

The notion that good ideas stem as a result of the collaboration stirs little debate among leaders today. This is because if we’ve learned anything about the art of innovation over the last twenty years, it’s that collaboration – the exchange of knowledge and ideas – is the fundamental driver of creativity and growth in nearly every disruptive technological advancement to date.

It’s seldom a lightning strike or epiphany from a single lone genius, but rather, a group of people, blending different experiences, backgrounds and skill sets. Over the course of time, they begin to see things in a different light and ask the golden question, “what if?”

Divided tools equal divided minds

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Pixar’s headquarters, the brainchild of Steve Jobs, was purposefully structured to inspire cross-departmental collaboration. Google employees squeeze inside the Google Garage because, according to Program Manager Mamie Rheingold, “if you can’t ignore the person next to you, you might as well collaborate with them.”

But, not every company has the luxury of building offices for the sole purpose of sparking serendipitous collaboration. Instead, we’re often siloed from other departments, left with little access to the daily activities of our co-workers.

This segregation extends far beyond our ability to interact face-to-face. According to Forbes Insights, the average business uses 36 different data-gathering systems and vendors for marketing efforts alone! All of these housing their own, individual sets of data and analytics. If the very tools that we use to complete our work are divided, how can we expect to attain the organizational interconnectivity that feeds the core of creativity?

For years, it was common only to make data readily available to a few departments or buried beneath complex spreadsheets. I love how Tomasz Tunguz describes this familiar scenario in his book, “Winning with Data: Transform Your Culture, Empower Your People, and Shape the Future“:

“When I think about the behavior of many business people today, I imagine a breadline. These employees are the data-poor, waiting around at the end of the day on the data breadline. The overtaxed data analyst team prioritizes work for the company executives, and everyone else must be served later.”

The problem isn’t that departments don’t want to share information, it’s that an accessible medium to channel that sharing hasn’t been developed. Instead, each team relies on their own analytics, essentially speaking their own data language. Occasionally, the effort will be made to wait in the “data breadline,” hoping to find answers that will likely be outdated by the time the data is pulled.

This is where technology can act as the crux for driving the cultivation of our collective intelligence. A technology platform that weaves together information housed within disparate toolsets, will dissolve departmental barriers and liberate individualized knowledge to feed the minds of the entire organization.

Analytics platforms provoke “what if” moments

An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire, and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organizational success.” – Stephen Covey

In Steven Johnson’s book, “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation,” (his TED talk is a must watch if you haven’t seen it) he makes two points that align with the foundation of this piece:

1) Open platforms allow innovation to surge.  

Think about it. More than one million apps have been developed as a result of the Apple’s iOS platform. The Google Maps open API enabled developers to create entirely new location-based customer experiences. The Postmates developer platform gives any business the ability to have on-demand delivery, even without a physical store. Opening up technology and placing it in the hands of great minds around the world ignites creativity and boosts innovation.  

2) The larger the network, the more innovation and evolution thrive.

Johnson’s book cites research by theoretical physicist Geoffrey West, revealing that, “a city that was ten times larger than its neighbor wasn’t ten times more innovative; it was seventeen times more innovative!” The more people, data sets or ideas that you combine, from different origins and vantage points, the greater the chance of innovation flourishing.

At Woopra, we’ve designed our customer analytics platform based on this very notion, realizing that the problem is not the lack of data, it is the division, segregation and accessibility of that data.

Looking at years of research on innovation, we made an assumption. If we create a platform that helps organizations cross that information divide, consolidating data from different departments, tools and sources – then place that data at the fingertips of every individual in the organization – curiosity would be ignited and innovation would flourish. In other words, to quote Aristotle, “the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts.”

For example, employees could see how a feature release drove support tickets, that impacted product engagement, spinning off a marketing campaign, that generated sales revenue and beyond.

As it turns out, we were right in our assumptions. When we allowed customers to consolidate their siloed data, across any amount of time and visualize this interconnectivity company-wide, innovation spiked. Employees compared analytics from different departments in ways that they never could before, identified trends and asked the question, “what if?”

Give employees the data to do wonderful things

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“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.” – Steve Jobs

In virtually every company, tools are provided to employees that empower them to make decisions. The difference between those that succeed and those that fail, ultimately falls on the people you hire and the culture you’ve created.

  1. Are employees encouraged to question the norm?
  2. To solve problems by positioning themselves at different vantage points?
  3. Have you created a culture that focuses on where you’re going or simply where you are today?
  4. And finally, is cross-departmental data made available to everyone, allowing them to join in the data conversation at the organizational level?

These are the fundamental questions that should be asked before expecting any disruptive innovation to evolve from your employees.

If curiosity is a byproduct of data, then innovation is the byproduct of curiosity. Establish a culture where data and curiosity are embraced and innovation will organically grow. But, this cannot exist without first trusting in the people you hire and providing them with the analytics necessary to succeed. When this happens, a chorus of “what if’s” will ring and innovation will transpire to feed innovative thinking across the organization.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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