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Lead Users and Tossing Pots...

I’ve learned from the open-source movement that people want to contribute to endeavors of mutual benefit.

The whole idea of "democratizing innovation" is what I wanted to do. I thought I could change the world, make it better. I wanted to develop something to bring creativity to the workplace, to give people motivation to enjoy their work, to be more productive. I wanted to pass along ideas, concepts, answers, questions, and conversations to those that would benefit from them.

The other day I read a post on Boing Boing about Eric Von Hippel's new book, Democratizing Innovation, about how breakthrough innovations are  developed by "lead-users" - those users who are motivated to solve problems, and thatdevelop novel solutions that people will want in the future.

You can get a free download of the book from MIT as well as check out videos on innovation. This is worth your time. Thank you Mr. Von Hippel for your generosity. Your contribution humbles us all.

Follow The Leader - Is a recent interview with Mr. Von Hippel on the [the feature ] web site.

When I first started Advancing Insights in 2003, my initial aim was to filter information from Everywhere for novel ideas to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and innovation of any business. My meme was, "intelligently cultivating ideas". I had no budget - meaning I had no money. My biggest problem was how to communicate those ideas to clients. I looked at email, instant messaging, print, web sites, and phone. I even spent five months ripping apart popular blogging software to find a delivery method for my services.

I felt the blogging software got me a third of the away, but I needed better admin facilities to securely handle hundreds or thousands of users at the same time. For example, say a business has a thousand employees and they need ideas and information for their departments plus the ability to share and work together with other departments as well as pull in ideas from outside. Every department, from marketing and HR to IT and Finance has it's own requirements. Let's suppose that all of them need their own blog tied to a central system where they can find, discover, and exchange ideas - from Everywhere. Well, there was nothing in the marketplace to do all these things. The delivery problem was just the beginning.

I wanted to get all this good content - I'd been doing extensive research for over a year, and continue to add to my knowledge base - ;into the hands of folks that are unable to find and discover it on their own. "I think my books change a lot more minds than my blog does. But books don't spread the way digital ideas do." Seth Godin

I feel your pain, Seth. With all of the mind-boggling ideas and sizzling stories floating around everywhere - both inside and outside every business - somebody had to find a way to discover this stuff and make it accessible. What's more, somebody had to make it easier for people to develop ideas on their own. I was determined to come up with a method to help businesses find discover and use ideas to save time, money and even grow the business, as well as discover stories to motivate people.

I lost track of my original idea. It was silly anyhow. How could I be the "lead user" for so many ideas to so many different people in different industries? Anyway, a strange thing happened along the way. I got really sucked in to the flow of the software - this stuff was beautiful. I was on to something. I gave up on the stand-alone blogging component and started looking at open source software (OSS). I dug through so many open source projects that at times it looked as if my project was not doable. I was trying to find stand-alone components with good application program interfaces (API's - how programs talk to each other) that I could integrate as well as find building blocks based o on new technologies like XML and web services.

I didn't know what I was doing, this stuff was all new to me. My tech skills were limited to old school - COBOL, BAL, CICS and systems design of mainframe business applications. Sure, I found stuff that worked to a degree but lacked something that was important. I made steady progress but I wasn't there yet. Although I wasn't even sure of what 'there was - it was not perfect. There were no signposts to guide me. I just plugged away with what seemed like no real direction in mind. If you ever worked with clay, you know what I mean. You play with it. Shape it. Press your thumbs in it - make holes, impressions, smash it. "Your mind will naturally and freely move toward a solution. " Evelyn Rodriguez

The open source software community is Remarkable. I met developers (language was not a barrier) over the net from around the world. They helped me figure out what I was trying to do and then taught me how to cut the code to do it. They even worked on the code with me or contributed code from their own stash. If you own a business or manage one, be sure to add OSS to your lists of things to check out the next time you need software. Oh yeah, pay attention to how these guys work together - it is magical compared to how most businesses operate.

So, what did you come up with? I'll give you a hint. Good people in good organizations are Ideascaping to fascinating results.

Update: Most of the posts on the site are focused on people, business, technology, learning, creativity, innovation, etc. I often times write about loose connections between ideas (half baked) that support what weare doing at Advancing Insights.