Social Product Development

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ignore these skills at your peril…

After reading Robin’s recent posting about the importance of capturing the intellectual capital from an aging workforce, I got thinking about the other end of the workforce age spectrum – namely, a generation of incoming workers that are wide-eyed, eager, and… utterly dependent on social networking. Case in point, on a recent flight from Boston to London I overheard a young woman ask “How much does it cost to text from London, because I don’t think I could go a week without it?” And to tell you the truth, the best multi-tasker I’ve ever seen is my 17 year old nephew – simultaneously texting, emailing, and checking ESPN scores. He’s “always on,” using short bursts of communication to stay in touch, keep up with what’s important to him, and let others know what he’s doing.

Face it, the incoming workforce isn’t going to just ask to use social networking in the workplace, they’re going to demand it. And wouldn’t it be crazy not to tap into this social computing skillset when it arrives – prepackaged - on our doorsteps? I thought about telling my nephew that he was great at “collaboration,” but I’m pretty sure he’d say, “Yeah, sure thing, Uncle Rob… whatever that is.” So behind Door A, an entire industry of PLM vendors is trying to get everyone interested in the benefits of engineering collaboration. While behind Door B, my nephew and his college buddies just simultaneously traded A-Rod from their fantasy baseball team, changed the location of a study group, and shared a copy of last years final trig exam.

So here’s my premise… we need these new entrants to the workforce to play the role of “social” in social product development. To ignore these incoming social networking dependencies – uh, I mean skills – would be foolish. We need to provide technologies in the workplace that tap into these skills and leverage them. To equip my nephew with a landline and an email account would be to kill his connectivity and his productivity. Wouldn’t that be a waste?


  1. I'm older than your nephew, but not old enough to remember drafting boards and T squares. So I suppose I belong to the transitional generation. The dilemma I foresee is this: The kind of collaboration the incoming workforce is used to is ad hoc collaboration in open environments, often with strangers they have never met. By contrast, the kind of collaboration the businesses like to see is structured collaboration, confined to the space within the company's concrete walls and firewalls. In the former, collaborators treat intellectual property as communal property. In the latter, intellectual property is strictly guarded. To nudge the workforce accustomed to the first kind of collaboration towards the second type would be quite a challenge.

  2. Kenneth,

    Great comment.

    However, I think there is a place for both types of collaboration in business – ad hoc and structured. Social computing provides these types of ad hoc collaboration tools to enable the younger workforce, for example, to search, identify, and connect with people in their companies that are strangers to them, but have the skills and expertise they need to take advantage of to get their jobs done. On the flip side, companies are concerned about security and IP protection, so getting their arms around social computing technologies, those that are industry-ready for business, and creating appropriate usage guidelines, will allow them to provide the tools demanded by the “social savvy” workforce, while feeling confident that they are not putting their businesses and IP at risk.

    Structure is key in product development because the kind of data (i.e. CAD and BOM) being created is highly structured and configured and the process of creating that data is highly collaborative. There are instances where that collaboration must be structured, as in a formal change process, and there are other instances where the collaboration is much more informal or ad hoc, as in the work-in-process stage of a new concept.

    Product development is an extremely social activity, but to be successful, social computing must be married to product development in a way that it delivers the capabilities to manage structured information while providing tools for both ad hoc and structured collaboration.

    Looking forward to more dialogue with you and eager to see your blog post on Social Media, the Web 2.0 Gold Rush.

  3. Stan PrzybylinskiApril 13, 2009 at 8:13 AM

    The other big issue here is that there really is no such thing as "multi-tasking". People just have taught themselves to context switch very fast. But recent studies cited in the NY Times and other sources talk about how this is inhibiting the deep thinking necessary to do things like product development.

    How do we find the balance?

  4. Our society is one that is perpertually A.D.D - -I just hope people are reading and learning and don't give that up. Like Rob, I have a 17 year old niece. In speaking with her this wee, she told me that she (and her classmates) "hate to read", it's "boring", and she even confirmed that she doesn't have the attention span.

    Too many people now are relying on "citizen reporting" (no fact checking) and personal opinions. While word of mouth has always been the most powerful sales tool, it may not always be the most accurate. So, while I agree that business needs to be open and collaborative, I just hope this younger generation doesn't give up reading and learning from trusted and credible sources.