Don’t Ask if you Can’t Act

Don't Ask if You Can't DoIn a recent Harvard Business Review article titled “Don’t Ask for New Ideas If You’re Not Ready to Act on Them”, Ron Ashkenas provides an example of a company wanting to do the ‘right’ thing but not having the processes or systems in place to pull it off.

The example provided by Ashkenas is one that I’ve heard and experienced many times myself.  One of his clients implemented a ‘crowdsourcing’ approach to gathering innovation ideas from people throughout their business. This company received so many responses that it took nearly a month for all of the responses to be analyzed, categorized and reviewed.  It then took a few more weeks for executives to respond to everyone and announce that they were planning on following up on specific ideas to pursue.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve seen this type of thing happen at other organizations I’ve worked at. The urge to identify and implement innovative ideas is a strong driving force for any organization and crowdsourcing these ideas makes a great deal of sense. That said, taking the step of asking for new ideas is pointless if your organization can’t quickly act upon those ideas.

This is why every organization needs to reimagine (or reinvent) itself as an agile organization. To truly be able to act upon innovative ideas, an organization needs to be able to marshal the necessary resources (e.g., people, systems, data, etc) to be able to analyze and act upon these new ideas.

Organizations need to be able to pivot and turn quickly to address their clients needs and their competitors offerings. This agility requires the utmost agility in all aspects of the business, including the IT group.  The IT group must provide systems and capabilities to allow the business to gather data, analyze that data and act upon that data quickly and easily.

In the example given by Ashkenas, an agile organization with an agile IT group should be able to put the right tools together capture, track, analyze and report on ideas from around the business.  If your IT group can’t put together the right tools at the right time to deliver the right services, you probably need to spend some time rethinking your IT group and its leadership. Additionally, if your IT group can deliver the right tools at the right time but it still takes you weeks or months to analyze and react…you have larger problems than just a non-agile IT group.


Finished this book up earlier this week and I have to say, I’m a bit disappointed.  I feel as though a book by the man who defined the word ‘crowdsourcing’ should give me more than just anecdotes about how companies have used crowdsourcing.

I’m not disappointed in the content of the book…it was good. As was the writing. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I felt like something was missing.  The book is interesting and a good read…but left me looking for more.

That said, there are some excellent stories of companies using crowdsourcing. There is some excellent ideas is this book, but very little actionable information. Well…except for the last chapter. The last chapter provides some ‘meat’ to the ideas behind crowdsourcing.

Before someone jumps on me for giving this book a bad review…I’m not doing that. I think people should pick up this book and read it, if only for the stories of iStockPhoto and other companies that have used crowdsourcing models.

After reading this book (or before it), take a look at Groundswell.  Groundswell is the book that I’ve been measuring all other books of the genre against.  Comparing Groundswell with Crowdsourcing might be wrong since they do cover different areas…but the comparison is there….and Groundswell comes up on top.

Perhaps Groundswell is higher on my list because it provides more of an analytical look at the social media aspects of business while Crowdsourcing takes a anecdotal approach.

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