Collaborative Innovation Networks

Peter Gloor, Tom Allen, Robert Laubacher, Detlef Schoder & Kai Fischbach (University of Cologne), Francesca Grippa (Northeastern), Ken Riopelle & Julia Gluesing (Wayne State), Christine Miller (Savannah College of Art and Design)

Wikipedia volunteers spend hours creating articles on topics close to heir heart, LEGO Mindstorm hackers pay their own tickets to Denmark to teach LEGO their most recent inventions, and Silicon Valley startup entrepreneurs all collaborate as creative swarms. They behave much like bees bees swarming to a new location. We call this process coolfarming, using the beehive as a metaphor to describe how to tap the creative potential of communities of innovators. A group of enthusiasts gets together to create something radically new and then recruit early adopters to try their innovation, thereby turning it into a cool trend. Coolfarming describes the genesis of an emergent trend—something new and fresh gets developed by a team of daring individuals, who then spread it to the rest of the world.

Coolfarming works by unlocking the creative potential of Collaborative Innovation Networks (COINs). COINs are made up of groups of self-motivated individuals linked by the idea of something new and exciting and by the common goal of improving existing business practices or creating new products or services for which they see a real need. The strength of COINs is based on their ability to activate creative collaboration and knowledge sharing by leveraging social networking mechanisms, which positively affect individual capabilities and organizational performance. Swarm creativity gets people to work together in a structure that enables a fluid creation and exchange of ideas. Patterns of collaborative innovation frequently follow an identical path, from creator to COIN to Collaborative Learning Network (CLN) to Collaborative Interest Network (CIN).

Over the last ten years our approach has been applied to dozens of organizations. We have studied their social networks through the lens of e-mail archives and other mechanisms to track organizational communication. The resulting analyses can show how to increase organizational effectiveness, creativity, productivity, and customer and employee satisfaction.
One result of our work is the software tool Condor (free for academic use) for Web mining, social network analysis, and trend prediction (available from the web site).