Network Society course (X). Carlos Domingo: Innovation in the Network Society (I)

Notes from the course Network Society: Social Changes, Organizations and Citizens, Barcelona, 15-17 October, 2008.

Geek Is Good
Carlos Domingo, Telefónica I+D

Malcom Gladwell:

  • Connectors
  • Mavens: know everything’s that happening
  • Salesmen

The difference between the geek and the connected geek: for the first time in my life, more people greeted me for my birthday on social networking sites than “offline”. Being connected is becoming a must and a differential thing too.

Big companies, understanding this, are hiring connected geeks so that they bring in new knowledge and, most important, new knowledge sharing practices.

From greed is good to geek is good

The (libertarian) philosophy of the Internet, cutting down transaction costs in open networks, is increasingly been considered as an interesting way to move forward (and beyond the crisis) and reshape the organizations’ architectures.

  • Share everything
  • Conversation
  • Co-Creation & Crowdsourcing
  • Innovation Networks
  • Organization

These five axes of change driven by the “geeks inside”.

Share everything

All assets digitized, open and free to use.

This is made possible in an easy way by using web 2.0 applications that enable open sharing.

Traditional project repositories are good, but the problem is that they normally hold so much information that it makes it difficult to catch, at a glance, a general idea of a specific project. Multimedia or rich media applications (e.g. video based) allow quick information to be shared and spread and, above all, to catch the attention of the reader.


The importance of finding tools to communicate in an informal, horizontal, unstructured way: how to recreate the virtual coffee machine.

One strategy is having each one creating and updating their own content and, then, in a centralized way, harvest the relevant or appropriate information for a specific purpose and collect it according to one’s goals. E.g. people maintain their own blogs, nanoblogs, etc. and a “central” page gets the information from selected RSS depending on categories, tags…

Other ways of doing so is gathering people around a specific quasi-corporate tool: Yammer. The point is that many tools already exist and can be implemented instantly: there is no need to wait for its implementation, not even to do costly benchmarks and/or code corporate applications. And the tool and the environment implicitly shapes the tone of the debate (“what are you doing” — Twitter — vs. “what are you working on” — Yammer).

Co-Creation & Crowdsourcing

Leveraging the “sharing all” and the “conversation” levels.

Open MovilForum or other networks the like allow sharing work in process with other developers or users/customers (in this case for mobile phone applications).

Idea marketplaces work well inside firms as they allow employees to share their ideas, discuss about them and, when an idea is acknowledged as a good one, to receive funds to develop the idea. If people are already using other tools (blogs, twitter), the conversation trespasses the boundaries of a specific platform to permeate the organization at all levels.

Innovation Networks

Acknowledging that the R+D department is not the only source of innovation: manage the know how and the know who. This can be done in different ways:

  • Venture capital, to invest in ideas coming from outside of the firm, to know their thinkings, to benefit from their discoveries, to provide insight to their processes.
  • Startups and SMEs, supporting them to create an innovation constellation around you.
  • Large Corporations, co-operating with them, sharing different points of view from different realities to create a new shared hybrid output.

How to permeate innovative processes within the enterprise? How to organize?

Self-management being the optimum. But it is complex as it requires maturity from the employees to work independently, without hierarchies, to trust their own criterion, to incorporate failure as a normal thing in the essay and error process, ask for forgiveness (in case of failure) rather than asking (always) for permission (i.e. be proactive). A cultural change:

  • Preoccupation with failure
  • Reluctance to simplify
  • Sensitivity to operation
  • Commitment to resilience
  • Deference to expertise

Ambassadors for innovation are drivers of this cultural change. Learn how to manage effective chaos.

Digital Natives, Digital Divides

[see “more info” below]

Managing digital natives with digital aliens or digital immigrants is delicate. Digital immigrants and aliens have to incorporate the discourse of digital natives, understand it and respect it, which is not easy. On the other hand, the opposite has also to be done so that the new generations do not step over the existing structures and people.

These differences in training, perceptions and behaviour generates digital divides difficult to be bridged. But that need to before they become chasms.


Jordi Assens: has been crowdsourcing been implemented not at the consultation level but at the decision-taking level? A: Slowly. One of the things that can be done is the creation of in-company start-ups so that good ideas have their own independent development. But influencing the high-level of decision-taking is still a pending issue. But that leaders are present in the conversation is, to say the least, a good step forward.

Q: Can you send ideas to a firm from the “outside”? Will it be accepted? A: It normally depends on the industry and how this industry normally works. If a specific industry is more used to sharing ideas and working together with other firms is the norm (e.g. telcos) it is more probable that new sharing and crowdsourcing philosophies would be easily adopted.

Q: How to let the society at large know about the participative processes (and benefit from it)? A: Create a “participatory brand” sometimes enters in conflict with the “official” brand of a firm. It is just one more thing of the whole bunch of aspects that have to be dealt with in new innovation processes.

Jordi Graells: How to measure the impact? A: At the employee level, satisfaction surveys are run. At the corporate level, costs should go down, as an increase of efficiency is actively sought.

Enrique Dans: How to overcome all institutional barriers? How to endure and not to burn out the innovation ambassadors? A: Some institutional support is, of course, essential. Motivation and a motivated team/environment. Identify the people willing to adopt change, and the people willing to fight change.

Ethan Zuckerman: Collaborative mechanisms vs. market-like or stock exchange-like mechanisms inside the firm, which is best? A: Market-like or stock exchange-like mechanisms are more complex (and costly) to implement, but hopefully there’ll be appearing new tools easier to set up and adopt.

Q: Why in-company start-ups? A: Flexibility, independence, market-like environment.

Q: How to incentive engagement through patent fostering? A: It does work, besides the criticism that patents get precisely for “closing” knowledge. But, sometimes, owning this knowledge is the only way to carry on with your own idea or project.

Fernando Santamaria: Where do we put this new innovation department in the organization chart? What’s its weight? Budget? A: Up to the top. It is crucial that the R+D department has direct access to the top decision-takers so that it is understood and also has visibility.

More info

Carlos Domingo (2008) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants and the News Generations


Network Society: Social Changes, Organizations and Citizens (2008)