A quick rundown of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2011 affirms that innovation is synonymous with success.
No. 1 on the list is Apple, an innovator in every sense of the word. No. 2 is Twitter, which has experienced five years of explosive growth by redefining communication. Also present in the top five are Facebook — you might have heard of it — and Groupon, a little coupon startup that’s suddenly worth billions.
It leads one to ask: How have these companies done it? If innovation breeds success in the modern marketplace, what breeds innovation within these modern companies?
There are of course a number of factors. A nondogmatic approach, willingness to fail, and a strong sense of what the company stands for are three that Fast Company identifies.
Another component that most, if not all, of the world’s leading companies have in common is an open internal culture in which knowledge sharing is celebrated. They actively encourage a flow of ideas among all strata of the organization, and just as important, they give their workforce the tools to share those ideas easily and without fear.
In the most innovative companies, those “tools” come in the form of a social intranet.
Monica Krake — Principal and Communications Director of The Social Agency, a PR and social media marketing firm — recently wrote a piece for Manufacturing Business Technology on the role a social intranet can play in the success of a company.
Krake profiled Continuum, a global design firm that has helped create many well-known products, including Proctor & Gamble’s Swiffer Sweeper.
In order to help employees build connections with each other and share knowledge easily, Continuum realized it needed an inviting, collaborative intranet. In 2009 they started looking at different software options and decided on ThoughtFarmer, which actually coined the term “social intranet.” Continuum picked the ThoughtFarmer social intranet solution because of how easy it made it for any employee to publish content and for its flexibility in moving content around.
Modern social intranets make it easy to have top-down, bottom-up, and peer-to-peer communication. Social intranet software finds inspiration in the most popular social software like Facebook, blogs and wikis, and repurposes key social features for business-specific uses.
“It takes two things to make an intranet social,” Chris McGrath, co-creator of ThoughtFarmer, told Krake. “It takes authorship — the ability for everyone to create content — and connections — the ability to see the people behind the content and to connect with them in some meaningful way.”
Continuum allows any employee to post news to its intranet homepage. The intranet, called “Orange” after Continuum’s corporate color, has a homepage news section titled “Fresh Squeezed,” where any employee can add a post with just a few clicks. Continuum employees share news about projects, clients and ideas, and virtually every page allows commenting, which creates valuable dialogue and meaningful connections.
“Orange” also allows any employee to set up interest groups. About 140 groups have sprung up so far, focusing on specific practice areas or professional disciplines.
“Since Orange came online, more people have been able to access the knowledge residing in individuals, but also the contribution to that knowledge has grown in some really wonderful ways,” Continuum’s COO Chris Michaud told Krake. “And that means we’re better at doing our client work.”
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