Earlier this week I wondered, "For mobile innovation to work, can it be simple?" I'm going to side with my friend Lynne Cooper and say no. But the complexity must be managed mindfully. I believe we should practice Output Freedom and Input Control.multipledevices We are not going to avoid the complexity. Yoo, Lyytinen, & Boland note:
...two forces of digitization, reduction in communication cost and digital convergence, stretch the innovation networks in two dimensions. On one hand, we see an increasing distribution of control and coordination among actors participating in innovation networks. On the other hand, we also see an increasing heterogeneity in knowledge resources that are mobilized during an innovation.
But how do we manage the complexity that a mobile system of multiple idea threads, multiple communities, multiple technologies and platforms creates? Does complexity contribute benefits (as well as acknowledged transaction costs) both through broader networks and better tools — but also from serendipitous discoveries from the complex overlap of networks, tools, and other triggers? If we do need this complexity, how do we manage it? Management implies goals in a particular direction. Murray and O'Mahony (pdf) offer the following goals for management related to innovation and the related reuse, recombination, and accumulation of knowledge: Disclosure, access, and reward. In the context of mobile tools and innovation, these goals can be supported by Output Freedom and Input Control. Output Freedom - Allow individuals to output their knowledge when, where, and how they want.  Don't stifle innovation energy. Don't stifle peoples' disclosure of knowledge or ideas by limiting how they can output that knowledge or idea. Rules around what tools one can use:
  • "We only support Blackberry"
  • Heightened security around mobile wireless access
  • Limited communication with support staff to fill-in-the-blank web communication - versus, for example, via Twitter or a phone call
...will limit disclosure of ideas. One reason I expect Intuit's Brainstorm approach works is because it allows people to output their ideas in a variety of ways and stages of development -- the process and tool replaced a more command and control approach with a stronger focus on rules, justification, and tracking. Output Freedom means letting people contribute however they want. The cost of simplification is too high. Input Control - Let people control how they accept the input of knowledge.  How individuals process knowledge is important to innovation. Allow individuals to build their own portal or strategies for gaining knowledge inputs.  Barriers that limit an individual's access may reduce their ability to effectively contribute to the innovation process. Big information companies (the sell side) understand this and so present their material in a variety of formats. Facebook, Twitter, eBooks, Endnote, and the like are available on many platforms and I expect we can even see valuations of these companies going up as they enable mobile access. Within organizations (the buy side) we should similarly value individual control -- again, the cost of simplification is too high. Both Output Freedom and Input Control speak directly to Murray and O'Mahony's reward concept. People will post where they get the most reward (e.g., audience support/affirmation), and they will look for inputs where they find the least barriers to entry and highest alignment with how they process ideas. I sympathize with the CIOs and their staff who must support Output Freedom and Input Control. Maintaining access support for a variety of mobile devices and applications is an organizational cost. I even agree with Ron Ashkenas' approach in A New Role for the CIO: Reducing Complexity (he does a good job of considering all three of technology, organizations, and people). However, I disagree with one of the stated questions -- unless it is answered with an appropriate valuation attached to innovation:
Have you prioritized the IT products and services you provide to internal users and been tough about which services you can’t offer? For example, do you have a standard desktop suite and refuse to support nonstandard applications?
The implication is that simplicity is preferred -- but the cost of simplification may be too high when innovation is at stake. Output Freedom and Input Control provide a complexity that may be well worth the cost.