When I hear the term “Idea Connector” I think of someone holding Legos standing in between two people with ideas. I don’t know why, but that is what I imagine. But actually I am not far off in my somewhat immature imagery for this business position. According to the Fall 2011 MIT Sloan Management Review, the position of “idea connector” is a real thing and not someone who works in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. “This is the person who links up the “idea scouts” — people with well-developed knowledge and social networks outside their company but limited networks within it — to the R&D engineers and others who can develop the suggestions,” according to the authors of a new study.
Companies such as Procter & Gamble, Cisco Systems, Genzyme, General Electric and Intel are often credited for dominating because they tapped into resources outside of just inhouse research. According to a new paper by Eoin Whelan, Salvatore Parise, Jasper de Valk and Rick Aalbers called “Creating Employee Networks That Deliver Open Innovation”, other companies that have tried to emulate these giants because they don’t have the idea connector to ensure that the idea gets executed.
The authors consider Google’s Marissa Mayer to be the poster girl for idea connectors. She is the go-to person for figuring out who is going to turn a great idea into something real.
The initial concept for orkut (Google’s social networking site) or for the company’s desktop search did not originate with her, but she played a central role in ensuring that those promising ideas, and many others that bubbled up to the surface, were fast-tracked for investment.
One useful mechanism has been Mayer’s tradition of holding three weekly sessions where she is accessible to all Google employees who want to pitch a new idea. She brainstorms with these scout-equivalents and presses them for more details on the proposed products’ functionality before deciding whether to champion the ideas to company leaders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
The authors believe that more companies should establish a precise procedure for idea chains that include the very essential “idea connector.”