The team of Diego Rodriguez, who is also a director at IDEO, and Bob Sutton introduced a panel who had been involved as collaborators and examples at the d. school - Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker, Wikia CEO and former eBay executive Gil Penchina and Perry Klebahn, the inventor of the modern snowshoe.
The Mozilla program for spreading Firefox was an example of spreading "infectious behavior" by enabling Mozilla's 50 to 70 employees to engage 125,000 people around the world in actively marketing the product and doing so passionately with a sense of authenticity.
Klebahn, who devised the innovative new lightweigh snowshoe in 1990 as part of his Stanford engineering graduate thesis, said his fledgeling company's biggest challenge was figuring out where people could go to snowshoe, and in that the skiing community of Vail, Colorado, was his "big Maven" which not only willing to lay out trails but ensure there were restrooms and that the trails would be patrolled, etc.
Asked what didn't work, Klebahn sited an effort to develop superathlete models, similar to Nike's recent years, by establishing snowshoe races.
Penchina said one failure at Wikia was trying to establish product reviews, and he said he'd prefer to start small projects to see them work before going full-bore, saying he tends to look at 'very small fires' of innovation and add a bit of fuel to them to encourage them to spread.
"We look for those little fires and set a spark and see it they will catch. If something sparks, then we will continue to add resources," Baker said of Firefox, noting that like Wikia it sought to proceed more incrementally. Furthermore, Mozilla has about 30 members of the Firefox community in whom it confides for advice on future longer-term planning.
Rodriguez and Sutton said spreading infectious action was not a linear path, but often involved multiple failures and the ability to deal with ambiguity.
"You've got to embrace the mess," Rodriguez said. Baker said dealing with ambiguity was a forté for her. "As a manager, I drive people nuts," she confided, because handling the ambiguity enabled her to actually be more productive.
Penchina said he also considered keeping things messy and ambiguous a part of the character of open source work, since he could count on having an innovative maverick find a leadership role in which he or she could "come forward and take the flag in this (productive) direction."
Rodriguez said engineers at the German automaker BMW with whom he had worked were very comfortable with ambiguity and not afraid of "messing around with stuff" and putting it to the test.
"Constitutionally, they're put on earth to play with ambiguity and build on it," he said.
Perhaps inspired by the examples, about 80% of the audience agreed in an instant poll with the view that every business can increase the contagious behavior of its customers.