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How Twitter Users Can Generate Better Ideas

Book Description

What prompts people to come up with their best ideas? Even Steve Jobs, renowned for his digital evangelism, recognized the importance of social interaction in achieving innovation. As CEO of Pixar Animation Studios, Jobs explicitly instructed the architect of Pixar’s new headquarters to design physical space that encouraged staff to get out of their offices and mingle. Jobs believed that serendipitous exchanges released creative juices that fueled innovation. Empirical studies confirm what Jobs intuitively knew. The more diverse a person’s social network, the more likely that person is to be innovative. A diverse network provides exposure to people from different fields who behave and think differently. Can Twitter make employees more innovative? Does having more diversity in one’s virtual connections mean that good ideas are more likely to surface, as in the face-to-face world? To answer this question, the authors analyzed employee Twitter networks. EMC Corporation, a leading company in the information storage and infrastructure industry, was one of the five companies the authors studied, analyzing hundreds of ideas submitted by EMC employees. The researchers found that, while Twitter users and non-users generally submitted the same number of ideas, the ideas of Twitter users were rated significantly more positively by other employees and experts than the ideas of non-users. The researchers also found that there was a positive relationship between the amount of diversity in one’s Twitter network and the quality of ideas submitted. However, the authors argue that just exposing oneself to diverse fields, opinions and beliefs on Twitter by itself is not sufficient to enhance innovativeness. Additional capabilities are needed to ensure that the ideas triggered via Twitter would be transformed into real innovative outcomes. A critical ability is individual absorptive capacity — the ability of employees to identify, assimilate and exploit new ideas. Two activities closely linked with increasing individual absorptive capacity and personal innovation are “idea scouting,” which entails looking outside the organization for new ideas, and “idea connecting,” which involves finding opportunities within the organization to implement the new concepts. The authors found that Twitter users who performed both roles were the most innovative.