You Don’t Need More Innovation. You Need Imitation.

In 2011, a team of cognitive scientists at Indiana University conducted a series of problem solving experiments. The goal of their research was to assess the most efficient way for people to overcome complex problems.

What they found would challenge the way that many businesses think about innovation. Specifically, people who simply observed and imitated others were able to solve problems more effectively than those who attempted to innovate individually. The study’s co-author, Thomas Wisdom, explained that “imitators often make their own improvements to the original solution, and these can, in turn, be adopted and improved upon by the originator and others.” In other words, those waiting for a creative epiphany were passed by time and again by those who were given a means to observe, imitate, and improve.

EmployeesSocialLearning

 

The research suggests that organizations in search of continuous improvement and innovation should do so by fostering an environment of social learning. In a business where any employee can easily observe and imitate those around them, the company improves its ability to iteratively solve problems, incrementally improve its products and processes, and differentiate itself from competitors.  

Of course, at most organizations, social learning already happens to some degree organically. A new front-line employee shadows a colleague, imitates their behavior, and over time, finds a way to expedite the service. A business analyst shares an Excel spreadsheet with a colleague who improves upon it by writing a short macro. An account rep makes incremental improvements to an existing sales pitch, resulting in higher prospect conversion.

For executives and employee development teams, the question then, is how best to facilitate an environment in which social learning can easily proliferate.

Enterprise Social Software and the Untapped Video Opportunity

For well over a decade, organizations have looked to technology to facilitate the social sharing of knowledge. In 2001, Microsoft launched SharePoint, a product that would become the most widely-used portal for sharing business information. More recently, enterprise social software, including Jive, Yammer, and Chatter, have sought to become the “Facebook” of corporate information sharing.

The promise of these apps to facilitate employee collaboration and productivity has driven a boom in the category. Last year, businesses spent $4.77 billion on enterprise social software, a number Markets and Markets Research expects to nearly double by 2019.

Yet, for all their promise, up to 80% of social business efforts are not expected to achieve their intended goals in 2015 according to Gartner Research. In many organizations, employees simply don’t use the software. Why? Analysts cite lack of leadership and employee training as two of the primary culprits.

These reasons, however, overlook what is arguably an even more fundamental problem with traditional enterprise social software. Enterprise social apps don’t actually facilitate the kind of imitation that Indiana University researchers found so critical to problem solving and innovation. The opportunity to observe and imitate that comes from shadowing a more experienced colleague, attending mentoring meetings, or watching a “brown bag” presentation simply can’t be replicated in a text-based social feed.

It can only be replicated using a medium that was built to capture and replay human activity — video.

Of course, video is already in widespread use for precisely this purpose in formal, top-down corporate training programs. Learning and development (L&D) teams routinely record job-specific training, courses in communication and soft skills, and new hire onboarding videos for employees to watch on-demand.

By contrast, video hasn’t been historically used for employees to informally record and share their knowledge with one another. Why? Capturing, producing, and sharing video has traditionally been a complex process that required the use of specialized AV hardware and a team of videographers, editors, and producers.  

In the last five years, however, two advances in technology have torn down these barriers to adoption, and have made video the ideal technology for building a social learning program.

  1. First, advances in consumer video hardware, such as smartphone cameras and webcams, have made it possible for anyone to capture cinema-quality video from their desks, around the office, or in the field.
  2. Second, a new category of business software is making it possible for organizations to create a searchable hub of social learning videos built for the explicit purpose of observation, imitation, and improvement. The category of software is called “enterprise video platforms.”

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Published: September 22, 2015