Can Twitter be your ideas engine?

ideationEarlier this year I looked at some of the places you can look to for innovative ideas.  These tended to focus on things such as monitoring ‘the edge’ for innovative outliers, and to universities for the latest research they’re working on.

One place that I didn’t look at was Twitter, with my rationale being that it’s often akin to looking for a needle in a haystack, and with our busy lives, we need to be a bit more targeted than that.  Alas, a recent study from researchers at MIT suggests I may have been a bit remiss to overlook it.

Central to the authors hypothesis is the importance of thought diversity, and especially the notion that the more diverse your social network, the more likely you are to come across good ideas.

Of course, this isn’t a novel idea, and is one I’ve touched on numerous times on this blog, especially in relation to innovation.  The question then becomes, do we construct our online social networks with those who think like us, or those with divergent perspectives?How diverse is your Twitter network?

To try and understand, the researchers constructed a visual representation of the Twitter networks of a group of employees from five distinct companies.

The authors cross-referenced the behavior of each employee on Twitter with the quality of ideas submitted to their employers internal idea management system.

It emerged that Twitter usage had no impact at all on the quantity of ideas, but the quality of ideas appeared higher in the Twitter group.

Interestingly, the researchers discovered that not all Twitter users were the same however, and the key to their successful generation of great ideas seemed to be the diversity of their network.

The diversity was measured by the number of the people you follow who also follow each other, with a compactness ratio used to provide a numerical representation of this.

Making use of the diversity of your workforce

Of course, it’s quite possible that people who value diversity enough to have a diverse network on Twitter would just as easily satisfy their need for diverse information through other means.

It’s also a long way from having good ideas inside you to actually having a platform to share them, and for those ideas to then be tested out in a controlled environment.

The authors also identified a degree of slack as being important, or as they term it, individual absorptive capacity.  In other words, employees need the time and capacity to seek, assimilate and exploit new ideas.

Central to maintaining this capacity is the willingness to both hunt down ideas, and connect up ideas from disparate sources, with employees identified as being adroit at both tasks found to be most innovative.

It’s important to then have a means by which those ideas and information can be shared with colleagues internally, and of course, for those ideas to then be built upon and experimented with.

Suffice to say, all of this could be done without relying on Twitter, with various other mechanisms by which you can plug into a diverse and varied range of thoughts and opinions.  Whichever platform you use however, it’s increasingly essential that your organization, and your employees, have that capability.

Let me know if you’d like some help setting such capacity up.

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