Innovating with Task Unification and Social Media

by Drew Boyd

Embracing social media and the myriad of Web 2.0 tools is more challenging than just setting up a Facebook account or adding a “Follow Me on Twitter” link. Organizations struggle with how to take advantage of the power of Web 2.0. Where do you start? How do you tie these new tools in with your current website? How do you make sure your current constituents are happy while moving the organization to a more networked world?

For this month’s LAB, we will use the innovation template called Task Unification, one of five templates of the corporate innovation method called S.I.T.. To use Task Unification, we take a component of a product, service, system, etc., and we assign an additional “job” to it. For this exercise involving Social Media, here is how it works. Imagine your company has a large base of employees in the field. For example, suppose your company has a large sales force or an extensive network of delivery or service people. Consider the U.S. Postal Service, for example, with an army of postal workers and letter carriers at over 32,000 post offices. A key question for these organizations like the USPS is: how do we get more value out of this fixed asset? Let’s use Task Unification.

Web 2.0 LandscapeI start by visiting a site that inventories all the social web tools: GO2WEB20.NET. I randomly pick an application from this list. Then I assign the internal field resources to “use” this application to increase revenue/profits for the company. Using our example of the postal service, I create this statement: “Postal delivery staff have the additional ‘job’ of using XXXX (web application) to increase USPS performance.” This is our Virtual Product in the S.I.T. method.

The key is to use the non-obvious applications for creating new, innovative services. You have to literally force yourself to imagine the corporate resource using the inherent aspects of the Web 2.0 application to create revenue or cut costs. Here are examples I created using Task Unification:

  • ParkWhiz:
    • “ParkWhiz helps people park their cars quickly and efficiently by providing them with the tools to make an informed decision. Instead of driving around to find parking, you can use ParkWhiz to get the best parking to suit your needs.”
    • Idea: The postal workers have a role to play by spotting empty parking spots and annotating this in real time using a mobile, GPS-enabled device to indicate the location of the open spot. Subscribers go online to see what parking spots might be available in their vicinity.

  • Gist:
    • “Gist helps you build stronger relationships by connecting the inbox to the web to provide business-critical information about the people and companies that matter most.”
    • Idea: Postal workers have a role of feeding information about traditional mail that is sent and received to your key contacts into the Gist system to help inform you about these contacts.

  • Walkscore:
    • “Walk Score helps people find walkable places to live. Walk Score calculates the walkability of an address by locating nearby stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc.”
    • Idea: Post workers have the additional job of providing information about what to see or experience between any two walking points. The information is real-time, so it includes weather, crowd information, safety issues, etc.

  • YowTrip:
    • “YowTRIP is a social network site that connects you with other world travelers in your town or wherever you’re traveling. Find people like yourself who are planning to or have traveled, live or have lived, anywhere in the world. YowTRIP’s goal is to promote cultural exchange by connecting world travelers and enabling them to share their travel experiences on this online community.”
    • Idea: Postal workers have the additional role of collecting and reporting tourism-related information to the YowTrip system to inform tourists of local sightseeing opportunities.

  • Orchestrate:
    • “Orchestrate is an online workforce scheduling application that allows Operations Managers to schedule qualified personnel and tasks with ease. Features include qualification requirements for staff, locations, logins for managers, staff and clients, compliance reporting and visually beautiful schedules.”
    • Postal workers have the additional job of feeding in critical job site information into the Orchestrate system to allow better scheduling of crews and tasks.

Companies have an enormous stockpile of Web 2.0 business model ideas sitting and waiting to be leveraged. Their challenge is to take advantage of the discipline and structure of innovation templates to lead them to new, useful, and surprising opportunities.


Drew BoydDrew Boyd is Director of Marketing Mastery for Johnson & Johnson (Ethicon Endo-Surgery division). He is also Visiting Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at www.innovationinpractice.com and at http://twitter.com/drewboyd

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  1. Sam Pakenham-Walsh

    Hi! This article appeared as a Related Post after mine, “Innovating with Rudyard Kipling”. I was fascinated by your ‘corporate resource’ concept even as I wondered how many potential beneficiaries would be imaginative enough to utilize it. Do you ever get the sense that technical tools are pushing managers – who are right there, on the spot – to one side? I do. & I fear for the effect this will have on the organization as a whole, as more & more managers manage less & less. Just a fear; that’s all.

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