Genius grants for inspired groups of collaborators

McArthur “genius” grants are famous for endowing single, brilliant individuals with the resources to pursue their dreams and vision for an extended period of time.

But genius often arises out of the interaction between close, complementary groups of colleagues. How about a McArthur grant for them?

It doesn’t have to be an actual McArthur, of course. But it would be fantastic if some creative foundation endowed a fellowship program that identified talent clusters: groups of tightly collaborative peers, likely in a single place,but possibly applicable to groups that have very tight, web-supported distance collaboration. These grants would be different from collaborative academic or NGO grants that support specific projects: the idea would be to support a group of people, and let them define their projects or areas of collaboration in part by using that funding to think big.

How would you identify these talent clusters? You could look at clusters of people who are frequent co-authors, project collaborators or event co-convenors.

But you might get more provocative results by tapping into social graphs, and identifying the proximity and intensity of working relationships by spotting the density of ties a given cluster of people have on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, and noting the frequency of their interactions.

Supporting the work of genius groups — and not just genius individuals — could unlock new sources of innovation and transformation.

Imagining innovation in the Google era

Neal Stephenson has written an important essay, Innovation Starvation, which I discovered via Ron Burnett. In it he grapples with the decline in world-changing inventions, and focuses particularly on the potential role of science fiction as an inspiration for breakthrough thinking. As for explaining the decline, the heart of his analysis seems to be this:

Most people who work in corporations or academia have witnessed something like the following: A number of engineers are sitting together in a room, bouncing ideas off each other. Out of the discussion emerges a new concept that seems promising. Then some laptop-wielding person in the corner, having performed a quick Google search, announces that this “new” idea is, in fact, an old one—or at least vaguely similar—and has already been tried. Either it failed, or it succeeded. If it failed, then no manager who wants to keep his or her job will approve spending money trying to revive it. If it succeeded, then it’s patented and entry to the market is presumed to be unattainable, since the first people who thought of it will have “first-mover advantage” and will have created “barriers to entry.” The number of seemingly promising ideas that have been crushed in this way must number in the millions.

What if that person in the corner hadn’t been able to do a Google search? It might have required weeks of library research to uncover evidence that the idea wasn’t entirely new—and after a long and toilsome slog through many books, tracking down many references, some relevant, some not. When the precedent was finally unearthed, it might not have seemed like such a direct precedent after all. There might be reasons why it would be worth taking a second crack at the idea, perhaps hybridizing it with innovations from other fields. Hence the virtues of Galapagan isolation.

With these words, Stephenson makes a great case for thinking carefully about when, how and why we rely on Google. It’s not a long walk from this argument to Nick Carr’s concern for how Google may be weakening our brains. Good worries, these — if we take them as the beginning rather than the end of the conversation.

Let’s take Stephenson’s example. So there you are, in the middle of a meeting, and you’ve just had a really great idea. Now what?

Stephenson predicts that the first thing you do is Google to see who else has had the same brainwave. And maybe he’s right. Let’s say you do Google your idea, and you find that someone has already tried your idea. Does it necessarily follow that you’ll either give up, because someone else has failed — or give up, because someone else has already succeeded?

On the contrary: that pre-existing knowledge could actually help you to refine, develop or drive your own idea further. Maybe you’ll see that a previous effort failed for reasons that current technology can now resolve (a circumstance that happens frequently, according to a recent CBC interview with Tyler Hamilton). Maybe you’ll discover it’s patented, but the patent-holder is just one LinkedIn connection away, and could become your next collaborator. Maybe you’ll find out that it’s been blogged and tweeted and Facebooked incessantly, and that huge fan base is just waiting for someone like you to come along and take this project in a more promising direction.

Or maybe you’ll Google your idea and you’ll discover that incredibly, improbably, nobody has built this yet! I can’t tell you how many of our web projects have begun with us thinking that surely somebody has already created a tool for personal support networks or participation research or cutting red tape. Then Google proved us wrong, and an idea that seemed too obvious to pursue turned out to be a blue ocean.

Then again, it’s possible that you’ll Google your idea and discover it’s already failed, or already been patented.  It could all unfold exactly like Stephenson says.  We could already be living in a world where people habitually Google their ideas, and habitually get discouraged.

But maybe we’re going to grow up. Maybe we’re going to learn that somebody else getting there first doesn’t mean we have to give up  — and maybe those tenacious few are those best-suited for leadership. Or maybe when our first idea gets crushed, and then our second, and then our third — well, maybe we’ll just get inspired by all these brilliant people who thought like us, and recognize that if we keep thinking, we’ll find our own magic opportunity. Maybe we’ll discover how to live in a world with Google, and still nourish our capacity for innovation.

And it won’t surprise me if one way we do that is by learning not to Google. We could discover that when we’re basking in the fresh glow of inspiration, Google isn’t the place to uncover its potential (or lack thereof). We could figure out the moments that call for expansive thinking, and the moments that require due diligence. And we could find the tools, and the work processes, and the ways of being that help us live effectively in a world of infinite information.

That process of discovering new ways to live with our online knowledge base…well, you might call it innovation.

6 web technologies that don’t suck anymore

If you placed a Skype call in 2003, you might remember the joys of echo-filled connections and dropped calls. The service may not be bullet-proof today, but the improvement is remarkable. What was once a service you use in spite of the glitches is now a service you can rely on for your day-to-day work.

As a new startup back in 2003, it’s not a surprise that Skype was less than perfect. What might have come as a surprise, back then, was the idea that just 8 years later we’d have a very decent audio and video solution.

But that’s life online for you. A new web service appears, full of flaws, and we pick it apart and bitch about it and then get used to using it anyhow. And as those flaws gradually get fixed and its user experience steadily get better, we….don’t notice.

That may not be an accident. One principle of improving a site or service is to do the improvements so gradually that users aren’t thrown by sudden changes in functionality or interface. That’s a great approach if you want to avoid rocking the boat, but it means that we — the end users — may not notice the improvements you’ve made. We may neglect to send you appreciative notes applauding your hard work, or boxes of candy and software. We may forget your birthday.

That’s why it’s nice to pause and reflect on the products and services — or entire categories — that actually have improved. Here are 6 web technologies that used to suck, but now don’t really suck much at all:

  1. Skype: Sound quality is better and calls are stable. You can call people who are on regular phones. You can use your smartphone to make a Skype call. You can do video. What’s to complain about?
  2. Camera phones: Time was, you had to choose between taking really crappy pictures with your phone, or taking proper pictures with your digital camera that you could only post online once you got home. Thanks to the advent of megapixel camera phones, you can now take a quite respectable picture with your phone. You can even add even better lenses to your phone.
  3. Google Translate: I recently used Google Translate to translate a long text document, for the first time in years. Much to my astonishment, the result was actually readable. No longer can you rely on Google to produce hysterically inaccurate, stilted results. I wouldn’t rely on it for business writing, but it’s an incredibly useful tool for business reading.
  4. Hotmail: I admit it: I’m prejudiced against people with Hotmail accounts. Whenever someone gives me an email address that ends in @hotmail.com, I immediately assume they aren’t that serious about life online. But the latest iteration of Hotmail has been greeted by many as a pretty decent webmail service. If you remember old Hotmail, you know that “pretty decent” represents a serious upgrade.
  5. Porn filtering: Do you remember how every single thing you used to see online arrived with pop-up or banner ads for porn? Thanks to Google’s Safesearch, you can now have a boob-free browsing experience. Of course, the boobs are still out there if you want to find them.
  6. Mobile email: Just 8 years ago, it was a real pain to send an email if you weren’t at your desk. Wifi was hard to come by, and the early smartphones that supported email were really horrible little devices that were a misery to type on. Now you have your pick of hundreds of ways to send email on the go; better yet, you can cut down on all that typing and just tweet instead.

On a day-to-day basis, it’s much easier to notice all the ways the web still frustrates us than it is to step back and think about how far we’ve come. Appreciating the improvements that have happened in just 8 short years fills me with excitement about where we’ll be 8 years from now.

What technologies do you see as greatly improved? What still sucks? Leave your comments below.

Real innovators don’t hold grudges

I started graduate school in 1995 with the intention of figuring out what was ailing Canada’s New Democratic Party. I dove into a comparative study of social democratic parties around the world.

As often happens for grad students, my research interest took an unexpected turn. A year into my studies, I was studying for my Ph.D. program’s field exams and shopping for a new computer. My desk was piled with two types of reading materials: books about European social democracy and MacWorld magazine back issues. On one typical day I spent an hour procrastinating my real work by reading reviews of the new Mac clones. Finally I buckled down and picked up The Class Struggle by Karl Kautsky, one of the early and influential popularizers of Karl Marx’s socialist theory:

Private property in the instruments of production has its root in small production. Individual production makes individual ownership necessary. Large production, on the contrary, means co-operation, social production. In large production the individual does not work alone, but a large number of workers, the whole commonwealth, work together to produce a whole. Accordingly, the modern instruments of production are extensive and powerful. It has become wholly impossible that every single worker should own his own instruments of production.

Fresh from my pile of MacWorlds, Kautsky’s argument caught my attention immediately. Sure, his argument made sense in a world of mass production — in a world of looms and factories. But that’s not the world most people I know work in: for more and more of us, the key “means of production” is a personal computer. And unlike a loom or assembly line, a personal computer can be operated by a single person, and is within financial reach of almost all the developed world’s population (and more and more of the developing world’s too).

It was a Reese’s moment: “You got social democracy in my tech shopping!” “You got tech in my social democracy!” Suddenly I could see the transformational potential: I wasn’t just shopping for a new computer, I was shopping for my own means of production.

I’m going to pause here to acknowledge the many dense layers of geekiness that lead a 25-year-old woman to think of her new Mac Performa (remember those?) as the contemporary equivalent of a textile loom. But in weaving together those various geeky threads — grad student nerd, leftie idealist, and computer geek — I found my field: Internet research.

My proposed dissertation on social democracy turned into a proposed dissertation on how computers were changing the nature of work, the nature of labour relations, and thus, the nature of social democracy. This did not make my advisors especially happy. They worried my argument had too many moving parts (computers >> work, work >> labor relations, labor relations >> social democracy) each of which implied a separate research agenda. This, too, was a problem many grad students face: developing a research agenda that is impossibly grandiose.

As I struggled to boil my dissertation down to a more focused and feasible scope, a more fundamental objection emerged: most faculty I spoke with were skeptical about the idea of writing a dissertation about the Internet. Yes, my department had approved one previous Internet-related dissertation. But most faculty were not sure that the Internet represented a dissertation-worthy development. The question I faced again and again was “What makes you think the Internet is important?

For fifteen years, I’ve carried a little bit of a grudge about that skepticism. I got so tired of trying to convince my department of the Internet’s significance that I put my degree on hold for three years. When I returned (in 2001) it was no longer a tough sell, and I was able to get approval for a manageably-sized topic: the phenomenon of hacktivism (politically-motivated computer hacking). I loved working on it, but never ceased feeling regretful that I hadn’t been able to write what would have been one of the first Internet-related dissertations, which could have turned into one of the first books on the Internet and politics.

Would have, could have. Those words should have been a tip-off that my regret and resentment were misplaced. But I didn’t really let go of my frustration until this week, when I started reviewing the major events in Internet history that unfolded in the year I started grad school. Here are just a few of the 1995 highlights captured on the leading Internet history timeline:

  • Sun launches Java on May 23
  • WWW surpasses ftp-data in March as the service with greatest traffic on NSFNet based on packet count, and in April based on byte count
  • Traditional online dial-up systems (CompuServe, America Online, Prodigy) begin to provide Internet access
  • Registration of domain names is no longer free. Beginning 14 September, a $50 annual fee has been imposed, which up until now was subsidized by NSF. NSF continues to pay for .edu registration, and on an interim basis for .gov
  • The Vatican comes on-line (http://www.vatican.va/)
  • The Canadian Government comes on-line (http://canada.gc.ca/)
  • The first official Internet wiretap was successful in helping the Secret Service and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) apprehend three individuals who were illegally manufacturing and selling cell phone cloning equipment and electronic devices
  • Operation Home Front connects, for the first time, soldiers in the field with their families back home via the Internet.

And a few more highlights, from the Cellstream wiki:

  • Yahoo is incorporated.
  • Internet services are launched in India.
  • “Cable modems” are introduced. These high speed digital connections over cable television networks are primarily used for Internet connectivity.
  • December 4, Netscape and Sun Microsystems announce plans to develop Javascript (announcement), an open, cross-platform object scripting language for enterprise networks and the Internet.
  • December, the Altavista web search engine is launched by Digital Equipment Corporation’s Palo Alto research labs, originally on the URL www.altavista.digital.com.

Holy cow! That is a lot of world-changing Internet goodness for one year. So many innovations that have helped define the Internet. So many moments that contributed to the Internet’s world-changing impact. So many developments that feel like they had to have been around for longer.

By the time I finally got my dissertation topic approved (2001) and certainly by the time I finished (2004) these events were old news. But when I first went to bat for my topic, they were fresh. The Internet’s scope and potential were just beginning to reveal themselves. And in retrospect, it seems not unreasonable that my department would subject something so new to a higher level of scrutiny before letting me gamble my academic career on its longevity and relevance.

Anyone who aspires to digital leadership can accumulate grudges like mine. If you have some extra bit of foresight, you may see stuff coming along before other people see it. Sometimes, they will react with a “wow, what a brilliant insight, please take my startup capital/letter of endorsement/signature on that dissertation form”. But a lot of the time they will react with skepticism, advise patience, or simply raise challenging questions you can’t yet answer.

When someone is holding you back from your leap forward it can feel like they are standing in your way. If you’re trying to take that leap on behalf of your organization — for example, by prodding them onto blogging or Facebook or Twitter — it can feel like your whole company or NGO or agency is on the line. You might say that the person who is acting as a road block “doesn’t get it”, that they are scared of change, that they are dinosaurs. You might feel a deep sense of conflict over whether to battle it out, or move onto a new context with more appetite for the innovation you’re urging.

Embrace that conflict, and learn to love that pain. More importantly, embrace and love the person who is inflicting it. For an innovator, this person is your greatest teacher: the person who will hold you to the highest standard, force you to answer the toughest questions about your vision, ensure that you know exactly why you’re anticipating the future you foresee.  Your job is to help push them forward, and their job is to second-guess. It’s the push-pull that keeps us in balance.

Of course, it’s hard to take that attitude of appreciation when you’re locked in a struggle over why, in 2011, it might be a good idea to get on Twitter. (If you’re reaction is OMG, it’s so obvious! then I think we know which side of the push-pull you’re on.) So maybe you’re not ready to appreciate it; maybe the best you can do is to try not to hold a grudge.

Or maybe the best you can do is to let go of your grudge quickly. If you can do it in less than 15 years, you’re ahead of me.

Online innovators turn foresight into insight

A glance back at the events of 1989 makes it look like the  year of foresight. It wasn’t a year of major tech payoffs: it was a year of advances that hinted at things to come. You can look back on those hints with a sense of financial opportunities missed, of technical breakthroughs realized, or of social payoffs still ahead.  Which reaction you have to technological innovations past will give you a useful clue about how to relate to technological innovations future. Reviewing past stories of foresight can become a powerful source of insight.

Foresight is a quality you might ascribe to Texas Instruments, which thought to register the domain name “bp.com” back in 1989. By 1993 the Internet Assigned Name and Numbers authority proscribed the registration of 1- and 2-letter domain names out of concern that these domains would be confused with country-specific domains like .ca and .uk, but they grandfathered in pre-existing two-letter domains like bp. That was good news for British Petroleum, which somewhere along the line acquired that incredibly valuable domain name. You might describe that acquisition as BP purchasing Texas Instruments’ foresight, a quality we now recognize is in somewhat short supply at BP itself.

Foresight is what you would have needed in 1989 if you wanted to understand the leap forward represented by hypertext. Tim Berners-Lee came up with the idea of hypertext in March of that year, but it wasn’t until the very end of 1990 that the world got to see what hypertext could create: namely, the World Wide Web. But I’m getting ahead of myself, which is something that hypertext (and foresight) make it all too easy to do.

If you had foresight in 1989, you might have seen that the advent of hypertext and commercial e-mail on the Internet and an online newspaper and a portable Apple computer were signs of a new world in which computers and the Internet were going to pervade every aspect of how we read and communicated and got information. If you were especially clever you might have imagined possibilities like hypertext poetry and problems like inbox overload and business models like newspaper firewalls and sexy objects like a Macbook Pro.

The thing is, not too many people have that kind of foresight, and those who do often lack the equally crucial talent of judging exactly how long those foreseen changes will take. Many visionary companies have been done in by getting out too far ahead of the market, and other companies have failed by jumping on the bandwagon too late. Those of us who survived the dot com boom and bust, or who have been along for the ride on the social media explosion, have often spent quite a bit of time thinking about where we want to be on the innovation curve. And a lot of business analysts are willing to give us an opinion about which part of the curve is most profitable.

But that is not the same as telling you which part of the curve you will enjoying living on yourself. Things like hypertext turn into things like the web because people like Tim Berners-Lee describe themselves as “lucky” to live on one extreme edge of that curve, looking around the corner. Things like an experimental online newspaper give birth to things like the Huffington Post because people like Arianna Huffington enjoy figuring out how to build an actual profitable business around an information revolution that has already occurred.

Knowing whether you like running ahead to the next wave of innovation, or whether you like to hold the hands of the people who are bringing up the rear, is one of the most important things you can figure out about your life online. It’s the difference between finding your bliss in the R&D shop of a large company that funds bleeding-edge research, getting a rush from cracking the monetization nut for a well-established technology, or feeling joy when you get that last group of grannies onto Facebook. It means figuring out not only which part of the curve you want to live on, but exactly what it is that appeals to you about being there: is it the intellectual puzzle? the social impact? the financial upside?

Answering that question requires not foresight, but insight. You may have an extraordinary ability to see around the corner, but if what you most care about is making a lot of money, living at the bleeding edge is probably not for you. Or you may be unable to see what’s around the corner until it’s right on top of you: that doesn’t prevent you from being incredibly useful at helping lots of other people adapt to the change that’s just arrived. Ultimately you are the only person with insight into what place on the innovation curve will be most satisfying to you.

It’s taken me a long time to figure out that I’m happiest when I’m doing what’s next, rather than what’s already here. I uncovered my passion for the bleeding edge not by looking forward, but by looking backward: by looking at the projects, moments and accomplishments that I found most satisfying over the course of 20 years.

Twenty years ago, the Internet’s first wave of innovators did the same thing: they gathered together to look back on the pure joy of looking forward. The passion and poetry they found on the bleeding edge speaks for itself:

We’ve gathered here for two days to examine and debate
And reflect on data networks and as well to celebrate.
To recognize the leaders and recount the path we took.
We’ll begin with how it happened; for it’s time to take a look.

1989 was the moment we could look both ways. Back to see what we had already made, and ahead to what was just becoming.

Using social media to drive business innovation: insights from Guy Kawasaki and Target’s Michael Axelin

Last week I heard Guy Kawasaki speak at the JFSA Innovators’ lunch. (Thanks to Raquel Hirsch of WiderFunnel for the kind invitation.) Hearing Guy on the Art of Innovation reminded me of a blog post I wrote last year after attending a talk by Michael Axelin, V.P. of Softlines Design and Product Development at Target (and fellow Oberlin alum). Both talks helped me refine my own thinking on how social media can support business innovation — a key benefit of social media that is neglected in favor of a pure focus on marketing.

When I talk about social media innovation, I’m not talking about how you, your best friend and the geeky guy you sat next to in Stats 101 can create the next killer Web 2.0 start-up. (In fact, I think we’ve now reached the point where “killer Web 2.0 start-up” is an oxymoron.) What I’m interested in is how “normal” businesses — businesses who existed before RSS was invented, and may well be around long after it’s superceded by the next thing — can use social media to fuel innovation. It could be innovation in the kinds of products you make, the kinds of services you deliver, or the way you do what you do.

We’ve seen social media support innovation on all of those fronts. Guy’s framework, with additional insights from Michael, provides a great way of envisioning how social media can help you  become a world-class innovator.

  1. Make meaning. Do something that matters and adds value. If you’re only trying to make money, you’ll never be a true innovator.
    How social media can help: Use your social media presence to have a conversation with your customers about something that matters and reflects well on your brand. This kind of reflecting glory marketing can make a real social or environmental impact, and in most cases is the best way to get people passionately engaged with your brand.
  2. Make mantra. Stop worrying about your mission statement and find your mantra: the 3 or 4 words that summarize what you’re about.  This is a great application of Michael’s rule of simplicity, quoting Schumacher: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex… it takes a touch of genius to move in the opposite direction.”
    How social media can help: Blog or Twitter your way into the truth of what your business is really about. There’s nothing like writing on a regular basis to help you figure out what you care about; find your voice as a blogger, and you find your voice as a company. With its 140 character limit, Twitter brings you even closer to Guy’s vision of the three or four-word mantra: our best summary is the one I twittered a few weeks ago after explaining Social Signal to our son: “We help people use their computers to make friends.”
  3. Jump to the next curve. Guy traced the evolution of food cooling from ice harvesting to ice factories to home refrigerators, and observed that none of the ice harvesting companies became ice factory companies, and none of the ice factories got into making fridges. His point: focus on the benefits, not the product, if you want to find that curve-jumping innovation. As Michael put it in discussing creativity, “defy convention to achieve greatness”.
    How social media can help: Start thinking now about how social media can kill your business proposition and embrace the threat. Newspapers will survive the challenge to print by embracing the web, not resisting it. If you sell content or services, how can you use the web to add social value to your services or I.P.? If you make a product, would it have more value if it were tied to a social context? Whenever you read about or try a new technology, you need to ask yourself how it could add value to your business — because if you don’t, your competitor will.
  4. Role the DICEE. Create products and services that are deep, intelligent, complete, elegant and emotive. It’s a great summary of the design focus that Axelin describes at Target: “Design is the core of innovation. Success depends on having a function, and appeal. Key thing is the emotional connection that gets established with the Target brand.”
    How social media can help: Engage your customers in designing your products or services and you’ll get more and better ideas — ideas that are guaranteed to connect with your customers emotionally, because they come from your customers. Ideastorm, Starbucks and threadless provide three different examples of how that can work.
  5. Don’t worry, be crappy. If you wait until everything’s perfect you’ll never get your product or service out the door. Michael talks about speed: Consumers want the latest thing now. You need to react quickly to design, market and sales trends by creating an organizational bias towards action that encourages people to get it done and get it done fast.
    How social media can help: Introduce internal collaboration tools to speed up your product development and sales cycles. Online project management and collaboration tools like Basecamp, Central Desktop, Salesforce and Yammer have become popular in the tech sector, but any company can speed up by collaborating through socially-enabled tools rather than endlessly circulating Word and Excel documents.
  6. Polarize people. You can’t make everyone happy, so focus on finding the niche that will love you. It’s better to be nine people’s favorite thing than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing. Michael’s focus on observation can help you find that polarizing niche: ” By observing people in various environments you can see what they may not see themselves and all kinds of insights and opportunities can open up. Observation helps you identify problems that need solutions.”
    How social media can help: Use social media monitoring to find the problems people are complaining about — a lot. The complaints tell you there’s a problem that needs solving. Better yet, find a problem that people complain about, but disagree passionately on how to resolve: now you know you’ve got the polarizing potential Guy talks about.
  7. Let a hundred flowers blossom. Your greatest success may come where you least expect it; Guy points to the many examples of companies that start out offering one product but find themselves in another business altogether. The unpredictable, serendipitous nature of innovation makes it crucial to invite in a range of ideas. Michael talked about the importance of imagination and brainstorming: “Create a culture of idea acceptance not idea judgement…The more open the brainstorming process, the more likely that the next big idea will emerge.”
    How social media can help: Use online brainstorming tools to encourage creative collaboration among your team. Invite customer ideas, feedback and suggestions on how you can offer new or better value.
  8. Churn, baby, churn. Our version of this rule is “iterate”: once you’ve followed the “be crappy” rule, it’s time to create new & better versions, all the time. You can support this with the kind of collaboration Michael discussed: getting a whole team of people to pull together in focusing on how to realize an idea, and continuing to make it better and better.
    How social media can help: Use a good analytics tool, like Google Analytics, to discover the patterns in who comes to your site, how they get there, and what they look at once they’re there. You’ll probably discover that you have several different customer profiles: think about how you can create different versions of your products or services that appeal to these specific niches, and develop different marketing plans and promotions for each one.
  9. Niche thyself. Aim your business at the quadrant where you are unique in providing a high-value product or service.
    How social media can help: Be relentless in learning about your competitors and figure out what sets you apart. Use social media monitoring to track not only what people say about you but also what they say about your competitors: if there isn’t a clear and consistent difference, or worse yet, if they aren’t talking about you at all, refine your offering until it is unique.
  10. Follow the 10/20/30 rule. This rule speaks more to promoting your business innovation: when pitching to funders, present ten slides in twenty minutes, in a 30-point font (assuming that the oldest person you’re pitching to is 60, and dividing their age in half to get the 30-point recommendation).  I’d extract a more general guideline, too: whenever you’re selling, keep it short and to the point, and know your audience.
    How social media can help: Promote your innovative products and services to the people who care, by finding the communities and networks where they’re hanging out. When you’re pitching, keep it short and to the point: announce your contest, product or promotion in a couple of sentences, not a two-paragraph comment on someone else’s blog. And whenever you’re promoting yourself on another network or site, be sure your pitch engages with the community or content you’re piggybacking on (“Your comment about how hard it is to keep your hair tidy on the slopes made me think you’d like our new hair-friendly toque”) so that it doesn’t feel spammy.
  11. Don’t let the bozos grind you down. While you may get lots of useful ideas from your online conversations, you’ll also hear from lots of the “bozos” that Guy describes: people who may be smart and credentialled, but give you the wrong advice — not bad advice, but advice that’s wrong for you.
    How social media can help: Build an online support network that can prop you up when the bozos grind you down. It’s not the network you’ve created for marketing your business, it’s not a gang of yes-men, and it’s definitely not a place you post messages about how you’re feeling down. (Assume that whatever you post will always come back to haunt you.) What it is is a source of inspiration — the bloggers, Twitterers, photographers and videographers who inspire you and remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing. Dip into it whenever you need that boost and reinforcement.

Social media alone won’t make you a master of the Art of Innovation that Guy Kawasaki describes, nor turn you into Target’s next V.P.  But by adopting social media in ways that support innovation, you can ensure that your online efforts repay you not only with buzz, but with brains.