In 1776 Adam Smith described in his widely known work, The Wealth of Nations, one of the most critical factors for the economic progress of the following centuries – the division of labor. Much of today’s wealth and technological advances are due to the effects of increased productivity. They emerge when work is divided into even smaller steps and carried out by more and more specialized workers. The trigger at that time was the increasingly complex production chains of industrialization. Not only did they permanently increase the need for skilled workers, but also the requirements attached to their skills, making innovation with employees possible in the first place.
In the past decades, it has been the rise of knowledge work that has further accelerated this development. Machines now take over almost all physical activities. As a result, intellectual work in the sense of the practical application of knowledge is becoming more and more important – especially in areas where digitization and new communication technologies play a central role. Intangible goods can now be produced anywhere in the world and relevant information can be transferred to consumers in real time. Successful platform companies such as Uber, Airbnb and many others exemplarily show how this immensely expands the possibilities of value creation. In the wake of these digital disruptions, many new fields of application and professions emerge, which demand even more specific qualifications from the workers. As a result, we are ultimately moving towards an era of hyperspecialization in which individuals will perform only a few selected activities.
Therefore, most training places and study programs are already focused on narrow areas of expertise that provide future employees with a great deal of expert knowledge and special skills. This helps companies to deploy their employees more efficiently and also to assign them much more complex tasks. In this regard, the concept of division of labor offers many advantages, as it not only improves the quality of the work but also increases speed while reducing costs. At a second glance, however, one serious problem becomes more and more evident, which primarily affects large, internationally active but also small and medium-sized companies. The increasing specialization of employees results in many different departments within the organizations, some of which operate entirely independently of each other.
Hermetically sealed silos arise, which prevent touch points to remaining employees. But the fewer departments talk to each other, exchange knowledge or work together on projects, the more employees will focus exclusively on their area of expertise. In the long run, this limits the thinking and action of the individual teams and, in the worst case, even leads to competition between departments in company-wide projects. Such tendencies are particularly counterproductive for topics such as innovation and digitization – which can only be mastered with a holistic approach that bundles all forces in the company. In most cases, there is a lack of channels and structures that can harness the expertise of individual employees for challenges or tasks outside their direct area of responsibility. Thus, many companies unconsciously restrict their problem-solving capacities and thus their own innovative strength. Especially when employees develop time-consuming new solutions that already exist in a similar form elsewhere in the company, potential is left unexploited, and the positive effects of division of labor and specialization are lost.
Companies are, therefore, responsible for counteracting this silo formation and establishing new opportunities for cooperation and exchange. The challenge here is to link employees with a certain problem specifically with the people in the organization who have the relevant skills to solve the problem. Solution Scouting makes precisely that possible because it harnesses the entire know-how of a company across silo boundaries and creates a new culture based on innovation and collaboration. We explain exactly what lies behind this approach, how it works, and what benefits it offers.
Like Open Source – but Different
Open source campaigns used by Software development show trough successfully handling projects that openly and collaboratively working on problems through a network of individuals can lead to outstanding solutions. The basis for this is the free availability of source code, which enables a wide range of individuals to participate and allows them to use and modify the software within the framework of free licensing models. One of the best examples for this is the T Linux operating system. After the free operating system Unix was privatized by the North American telecommunications group AT&T in the early 1980s, many people and institutions committed themselves to create a similarly compatible and freely accessible replacement.
In 1991 Linus Torvalds, with the help of the University of Helsinki, put some of the programs he had developed online, which later formed the core of the new operating system under the name Linux. He recognized the potential of his software at an early stage and tried to win further comrades-in-arms. An enthusiastic community quickly formed around the young Finn, who began to push the project forward. While some integrated graphical user interfaces, others took care of ports to other processor architectures and still others programmed additional functions. At this point, the great advantage of Open Source becomes particularly evident. All participants can contribute their expertise in different areas, and the work is shared efficiently. The first executable version of Linux was thus not only rapidly finalized but also of high quality and contained features for many different purposes. A rigid team with limited capacity and solution approaches working on this without the help of external experts would not have been able to accomplish the task quite as successfully.
Solution Scouting is not based on the same method as Open Source but is based on similar principles. Radical innovations often take place at the interfaces of the various knowledge disciplines. The more diverse the composition of the project participants, the more likely it is to achieve a breakthrough. People tend to associate problems occurring outside their own area of expertise with solutions that they have found in their own work. These unorthodox approaches are often the missing piece of the puzzle for long unsolved problems. Even for the most complex research tasks, there are people who already have an innovative answer. The question now is: How do I find these people and their ideas?
In Open Source projects, the search for a suitable problem solver is comparatively easy due to shared interests, voluntary participation and solidarity within the community. For companies, the underlying challenge is much more difficult. Particularly in large organizations with thousands of employees, responsibilities and areas of responsibility are clearly defined, widely ramified and distributed across the globe. Due to this organizational and spatial separation, a limited flow of communication between employees can often be observed. Collaboration only takes place if ordered by the managers – and even then, it is often project-related and runs in narrowly defined paths. At the institutional level, these silo structure suppresses the will of employees to solve problems together, discuss them or bundle resources elsewhere. Resulting in a slowdown of any project progress. In the worst case, it can even lead to different teams simultaneously working on similar or even identical issues. Highly qualified employees, capital and other means of production are unnecessarily tied up several times.
Especially concerning the innovative strength of a company, the knowledge of the employees should be optimally interlinked to be able to use their entire potential efficiently. The best innovations are rarely the product of a single mind. Instead they are created by bringing different perspectives together in joint discussions and by sharing ideas. This is where Solution Scouting comes in. By networking all employees on a central platform, a simple option is created to get in touch with each other and exchange ideas. The core of the new approach is the orientation towards so-called Challenges. In contrast to an unstructured submission of ideas and challenges, Solution Scouting works on concrete problems with clearly defined goals. This means that employees who are looking for specific expertise for a project can initiate their own innovation Challenges in order to specifically address people with the relevant competencies. This mode allows employees to participate in innovation processes across the Group – regardless of location, department, area of expertise or hierarchical level.
The starting point for Solution Scouting is, therefore, always the concrete Challenge. An employee encounters a problem in his or her area of responsibility which he or she cannot solve without the help of another person or which he or she suspects has already been solved in another department. In most cases, these are mainly technical questions. One conceivable example is the composition of a chemical formula that was originally developed for new drugs but whose characteristics also make it interesting for the production of fertilizers. Information on such interdependencies normally has little chance of being passed on beyond the boundaries of the respective department. With the platform, however, the employees now have access to a vast network of potential problem solvers who possess this information or can otherwise help with their know-how. To ensure that the process remains efficient and identifies the right people quickly, all users create a personal profile when registering on the platform. The user profiles can contain a wealth of relevant information about an employee, depending on requirements. However, of high importance is information about the particular area of expertise and the competencies and abilities of a person. In this way, suitable employees can be addressed directly when a topic from your area of expertise is dealt with on the platform. This also applies to personal areas of interest beyond one’s own tasks in the company. As a result, contents can be personalized and gain in relevance for the user. Each employee is thus only kept up to date on the topics that concern him professionally and also motivate him in terms of content.
Solution Scouting does not only assist in searching for knowledge and solutions within the company. The platform is also capable of integrating company-internal databases and existing systems into the Challenges via interfaces. As a result, a wide range of additional information and data is directly usable within the innovation context. In addition, the platform bundles the results of all questions converging on the platform in a central database, where they are processed and searchable for future challenges. Intelligent algorithms run in the background to maintain an overview despite a multitude of topics and information. Through semantic analysis, during input the user can easily identify whether his contribution is related to existing ideas, discussions or solutions. This enables the user to see immediately which employee has already given the appropriate answer or, if necessary, to network solutions from different areas. This gives the platform the character of an omniscient point of contact for problems of all kinds. It is not just a tool but a central component in the development of a new corporate culture that motivates employees to actively contribute their knowledge. This not only strengthens the feeling of belonging to the company, but also ensures sustainable motivation and a content-rich use of the platform in practice.
Advantages of the innosabi Technology
Solution Scouting paves the way to entirely new possibilities of collaboration within the company. By connecting relevant knowledge and the right people through an intelligent innosabi platform, collaborative problem solving is possible even across departments and countries. New impulses and perspectives of specialized experts help to solve challenges quickly and additionally improve the quality of the results. Since technologies become ever more complex and demanding, the optimal use of specialist knowledge as well as innovation with employees rise to prominence.