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Introducing new ideas

Workgroups of experts ...

One of the most common practices in government and large organisations that want to do something new - like introducing the use of telematics - is to set up a workgroup to elaborate a project that will subsequently be applicable to everybody. "That makes sense," you might say. "You can't have everybody deciding what to do, the process would be too slow and chaotic. What's more experts know what they are talking about!" Yet this practice has a major disadvantage: by taking the elaboration process outside the future user population, it makes the subsequent up-take of the project all the more difficult to succeed. Such a way of working tends to produce beautiful far-reaching solutions on paper. At the conception stage, dreams are still possible, thank heavens! Yet the resulting project is far from current culture and practices. It is imposed "from above" and does not grow "from within". Rather than being built on confidence in people's ability to learn and do things for themselves, this approach banks on expert knowledge and the belief that the introduction of technological solutions will dictate ways of working and consequently improve them. Such an outcome is not at all certain.

... coming up with the best solution

What's more, in the impetus to come up with the best project possible, the workgroup logic often leads to large-scale solutions that are costly and time-consuming to implement. The initial barrier to getting the project off the ground can be so high that nothing comes of it. In addition, such elaborate solutions have not been honed by practice, but are often full of a host of little unforeseen problems that make their up-take all the more difficult. Such was the case with the elaboration of the OSI standards as opposed to the development of the Internet protocols. The former were elaborated in committees before being "proclaimed" a standard albeit full of teething problems and far too costly to implement, whereas the latter, despite their shortcomings, were developed progressively by trial and error by a wide user population and now have been adopted massively.

Using in-house workgroups ...

To combat the difficulties of integrating knowledge from external experts, companies and administrations set up workgroups within the company. As these people accumulate know-how about the subject and develop ideas of possible solutions, they undergo a substantial learning process. A knowledge gap grows between themselves and their fellow employees or management which is often increased by keeping their work secret during the elaboration phase. Starting from corporate culture and practices shared - more or less - by everybody in the company, their work on bringing up new ideas shifts their perspective. They can end up seeing certain ways of working from a quite different perspective than their colleagues. In wanting to introduce these new ideas, their major problem becomes filling in the knowledge gap and changing the perspective of their fellow employees. In many ways, seen from the perspective of the rest of the company, they have become a group of experts outside current corporate culture and as such have a lot of the problems of external experts mentioned about.

Getting beyond corporate culture

Another possible difficulty is that the influence of corporate culture - the generally accepted ideas about what is important and how things best be done - is so pervasive that the internal workgroup is unable to come up with necessary ground-breaking solutions.

Pilot schemes

Another strategy frequently used involves the setting up of a pilot scheme in which part of the company tries out new ideas and, depending on the results, the rest of the company join them later. Pilot schemes can be very successful. People taking part are boosted by a feeling of being something special and their resulting motivation contributes to the successful outcome of the scheme. However, when the scheme is extended to everybody, the specialness falls away, motivation decreases and results can be "surprisingly" disappointing

A move towards successful innovation

When it comes to introducing new ideas and new ways of working into administrations and companies, care should be taken to involve the user-population widely in the learning process of experimenting and developing solutions right from the start. This can best be done by:
  • Involving both staff and external experts in developing new ideas and ways of working;
  • Continually informing all those who are going to be affected by these new ideas of work in progress;
  • Providing everybody with background information necessary to understand new solutions;
  • Encouraging staff to give feed-back and suggestions during the whole process of elaborating new ideas and tools;
  • Introducing change, whenever possible, in an incremental way;
  • Informing all those concerned by the change of progress on pilot schemes.
Using telematics offers a powerful tool that can contribute to achieving these aims. Yet we should be wary of costly in-house solutions. Common sense suggests that, in many cases, it is easier and more economical to build on simple, existing tools like e-mail and the Web even if these have their limitations. Steve Jobs, in an interview in Wired magazine [WIRED 4.02 Feb. 96], stresses the need to achieve "universal" use of the Web. He sets it in the light of the fight to stop Microsoft getting control of the Web. But the idea of increasingly widespread use of the Web - Jobs suggests that companies are going to make extensive use of it internally - should be borne in mind when considering introducing telematics in companies and administrations. Staff are more likely to see the sense of using new tools if they can also use them elsewhere. Share or comment
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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey, info@connected.org
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Created: February 26th, 1996 - Last up-dated: July 7th, 1997