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Founder’s Words: From Research Idea to Commercialization

BlogTue Nov 03 2020Written by Carina A. Hallin6 minute read

Every implemented business idea results from a long and painstakingly innovation process, but a truly inspiring and exciting journey in itself!

It was a sunny April afternoon in 2003 at Cornell University Campus, Upstate New York. I was sitting outside the Johnson School of Management, glancing across the campus road at the world's leading hotel school, Cornell School of Hotel Administration. It made me reflect on the many rich insights that hotel staff accumulate from their daily operations. Hospitality employees are in continuous interaction with guests, colleagues, managers, and people from the industry with whom they socialize. It came to me that many of these accumulated experiences remain unspoken and develop into intuitions about the company's future states.

I became inspired by the idea of investigating how employee intuitions can explain future firm performance.

This idea led me to study the work of Michael Polanyi (1891-1976), a physical chemist who was one of the novel philosophers of science in the 20th century. In his book, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post Critical Philosophy (1966), Polanyi refers to tacit knowledge and presents the notion of tacit knowledge thoroughly in his book "The Tacit Dimension." As Polanyi argues, tacit knowledge includes inherited practices, implied values, and prejudgments. It is both conceptual and sensory information and the formation of images to make sense of something. Tacit knowledge is scattered bits of insights, and it is often brought together to help form new models or theories. In Polanyi's words, "we can know more than we can tell" (Polanyi, 1966). 

In the spring of 2004, my good friend and former colleague Einar Marnburg came to Cornell University. We started to talk about operational measures concerning "what kind of activities do frontline employees accumulated tacit insights about?" and "how can we aggregate the tacit knowledge"? We had a delightful time drawing on papers and sketching the foundation for exploring the harnessing of tacit knowledge and its quality for decision-making. I was drawn to the work of George Katona (1901-1981), who was a Hungarian-born American psychologist and one of the first to advocate a reconciliation between economics and psychology. George Katona, who authored the book "The powerful consumer" in 1951, was originally trained as a gestalt psychologist working on problems such as learning and memory. During the Second World War, he became interested in applying psychological principles to macroeconomics. He devised the measures of consumer expectations that eventually became the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index. The survey collection of consumer expectations of the index enabled him to predict the post-war boom in the United States when conventional econometric indicators were predicting a recession. Katona wrote many books and journal articles advocating the development of economic psychology and fostering the general ideas of consumer confidence that has laid the foundation for modern behavioral economics. 

In 2005, I continued working on harnessing the implicit knowledge and expectations by employees combining Polanyi and Katona's work. I traveled to Singapore to interview management and frontline employees at the legendary Raffles Hotel to achieve insights into what constitutes an outstanding hotel performance and what elements make Raffles Hotel one of the most sustainable and prestigious hotels globally. These insights made me continue my journey to Alice Springs, Australia, where I attended a management conference in the desert and presented my preliminary work on relevant measures for employee sensing in hotels. I had an inspiring time discussing and receiving feedback from management scholars' evaluations of these measures. 

The work of Katona made me aware of the benefits of addressing consumers' predictions. In other words, an individual's judgmental prediction is a 'tangible' product of a tacit knowledge accumulation (Thiele, 2010). From 2005 to 2009, I empirically tested frontline employee versus manager predictions in judgmental time-series across Scandinavia hotels. Together with Professor Sigbjørn Tveterås, an Applied Econometrician at the University of Stavanger, we worked on the analysis and found evidence that especially frontline employees can predict important performance variables. For example, we investigated employee predictions of team performance, innovation, competitiveness, and guest satisfaction linked with short-term fluctuations in financial firm performance (Hallin, 2009). The work was evaluated as groundbreaking by the international Ph.D. committee. Still, the thesis also opened up for many implications on measuring the internal workings of tacit knowledge in people's minds. These implications have later led me to investigate the differences in organizations' prediction measures when harnessing explicit versus implicit insights, such as sensing fuzzy variables (Hallin, Andersen, and Tveterås, 2017).  

From 2015 to 2018, I worked on various studies with research assistants at the Copenhagen Business School to validate employee predictions in multinational organizations. In all the research processes, we recognized the need for using advanced crowd prediction software to enhance the efficiency in prediction aggregation. It was about this time that James Surowiecki's book "The Wisdom of Crowds," published in 2004, gained widespread interest across the world. The book presents cases on the use of ideation crowdsourcing and software mechanisms to foster innovation in organizations. It was also about this time that the empirical results of the testing of corporate prediction markets at Google and Ford were published (Cowgill et al., 2015). Prediction markets operate as a virtual stock market, such as betting on observable outcomes to determine the likelihood of future events, e.g. "Will a project be finished on time? or How many users will Gmail have? (Cowgill et al., 2015). 

Around 2016 I started to have conversations with the legal department at Copenhagen Business School regarding commercializing my research on intuitive judgments and predictions. Together with CBS Legal, I discussed how we could elaborate on the research's commercialization. In 2017, that conversation continued with CBS Legal department and the Danish State Attorney, supported by CBS colleague Professor Torben Juul Andersen.  

In 2018 my friend Pernille Simmelkiær, a Danish crowdsourcing entrepreneur, introduced me to serial-entrepreneur Mik Thobo-Carlsen. Mik's extensive experience with startups and his philosophy and physics background at the University of Copenhagen, combined with his studies at the IT University of Copenhagen, truly inspired me. Mik and I decided to start a company together, and Mik introduced me to his friend Bjarke Ingels. Bjarke was inspired by our company vision and joined us as a co-founder, and the name Mindpool was coined with the implicit meaning of pooling human intuitions and computer minds. 

The Future Outlook 

At Mindpool, we have observed that businesses and public institutions have just started to embrace new collective intelligence applications to adapt to the technological revolution. New collective intelligence technologies will drive a revolution in companies' internal and external functioning in the years to come. This collective intelligence disruption poses new challenges related to the constant search for innovation, learning, and collaboration to work in the company and its relationship with customers, collaborators, and suppliers. In this context, business management needs new predictive and intuitive capabilities to stay ahead of the competition. Mindpool offers such collective intelligence solutions, and together with the team at Mindpool – we are excited about this journey!

For more information on Mindpool, please contact COO Søren Holm (email: [email protected]).

 

References:

  • Budescu and Chen (2015), "Identifying Expertise to Extract the Wisdom of Crowds" pp. 267-280.
  • Cowgill and Zitzewitz (2015), "Corporate Prediction Markets: Evidence from Google, Ford, and Firm X," pp. 1309-1341.
  • Hallin (2009), "Exploring the Strategic Impact of Service Employees' Tacit Knowledge: The Development of an Indicator for Forecasting Economic Performance of Hotel Companies". 
  • Hallin, Andersen, and Tveterås (2017), "Harnessing The Frontline Employee Sensing Capabilities For Decision Support," pp. 104-112.
  • Hong and Page (2004), "Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform," pp. 16385–16389.
  • Katona, G. (1960). The powerful consumer. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. 
  • Polanyi, M. (1966). The tacit dimension. New York: Doubleday & Co. 
  • Thiele, L.P. (2010). The Heart of Judgment. Practical Wisdom, Neuroscience, and Narrative.

You've just read a blog post from Mindpool - a platform that helps you harness the collective intelligence of employees. Mindpool taps into the knowledge of employees to provide actionable predictions and curated insights. Mindpool is rooted in decades of research in collective intelligence. Read more from our resource universe or contact us here if you'd like to tap into the valuable knowledge of your employees.

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