You can use Twitter to get new ideas to do your work in a better way

Would you like to show off at work with great ideas? This week I did some intakes for a course about learning technologies which is starting next Monday and I realized that actually very few people are using Twitter. Yes, they do have a Twitter account and may have a look at their timeline some times, but it is not helping them to do their work in a more innovative way. That’s a pity, because Twitter can actually help you to generate better ideas.

Knowmads are innovative

I believe that we need to work more and more in a knowmadic way (see this blogpost about knowmad). Technology is driving innovation and new ways of working, but we need people to do this. New ideas can help to solve a recurrent problem or simply ideas which stimulate you to do your work in a different way which may be fun. It is not something I am making up, but something I have experienced myself and which is backed up by a study by MIT.  I read “how Twitter users can generate better ideas” by Salvatore Parise, Eoin Whelan and Steve Todd. The article is based on a 5 year research program in which they studied 10 employee groups in 5 companies. They linked internal brainstorm results to Twitter usage. 

The ideas of twitter users are of higher quality
Twitter users and non-users actually submitted the same number of brainstorm ideas, but the ideas of Twitter users were rated higher (the rating was done anonymously).  Furthermore, there was a correlation between diversity of the Twitter network and the quality of ideas. Loose Twitter networks are better for ideation. 
Become an ideas scout and idea connector
Just being on Twitter is not enough. 205 interviews revealed what skills are necessary to be able to find ideas and be able to translate to your work context. You need what they call an individual absorptive capacity. Two activities were correlated to this capacity: idea scouting and idea connecting. Twitter users who performed both roles were the most innovative. 

An idea scout is an employee who looks outside the organization to bring in new ideas. An idea connector is someone who can assimilate the external ideas and find opportunities within the organization to implement these new concepts

Idea scouting

So how to scout ideas on Twitter? Interviewees said: It’s not the number of people you follow on Twitter that matters; it’s the diversity within your Twitter network. A senior technologist who was interviewed said: “I don’t necessarily want to follow more people. I just want to follow people whose opinions don’t always align with my own, which is kind of an ongoing battle because after a year or so of following the same people, you find that your opinions shift and morph a little, and suddenly you are with a homogenous group of people again.” What I personally do is follow a wide range of people on Twitter. However, the flow is so large I can not read all. I may hence miss Tweets from the people in my network, therefore I  use Hootsuite to be able to follow my warmer networks via lists.

The 70/30 rule

One person had a 70/30 rule to blend serendipity into her Twitter network: 70% of the people she follows are directly relevant to her work, 30% are outside her comfort zone. Several employees mentioned virtual connections to the thoughts of individuals such as former astronaut Buzz Aldrin as catalysts for good ideas. What I do is follow people from other industries (like marketeers) and also writers of books I like. You could also think of having a core of strong ties (people you know well and work with) and weak ties (people who are unknown to you or move in quite different networks).

From weak to strong tie

You can use Twitter as a way to move from weak ties to strong ties, to get to know people better. Twitter is perfect to establish weak ties (by following them), you can start to engage by interacting (such as replying, retweeting) but may also organize face-to-face meetings. In this way Twitter helps you expland your strong network.

Idea connecting

Idea connecting involves translating the idea to the workplace and issues and sharing and discussing those ideas with the appropriate stakeholders. In the interviews people described their roles as listener, curator and alerter. One person said: “I try to sift through all the Twitter content from my network and look for trends and relationships between topics. I then put my analysis and interpretation on it. I feel that’s where my value-add is. I’m not just sending out a bunch of links. I think through what might be valuable to particular groups such as marketing or engineering. This leads to engaging discussion.” My personal experience is that there is also serendipity involved. I follow L&D trend watchers and read about artificial intelligence and chatbot. When I participated in a face-to-face method to reflect about mistakes in order to learn from them I was able to connect that idea to a confession bot idea. Hence Twitter does work for me as a source of new ideas.

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