Identifying the Value of Crowdsourcing: A Talk with Dr. Zoe Szajnfarber

Crowd of people.

Digitization is a game-changer across all industries, affecting companies large and small. Traditional approaches to creating innovation strategies are no longer providing effective solutions. Instead, companies are adopting a way of solving problems known as open innovation.

One method for practicing open innovation is through crowdsourcing, the process of sharing ideas across industries to solve a common problem. This typically occurs online and can be implemented in a few ways. Dr. Zoe Szajnfarber shared her views and experiences on this topic on the most recent IdeaScale Nation podcast.

Defining Open Innovation

Dr. Szajnfarber characterizes innovation as coming in different forms. These forms are based on individual experiences that shape outcomes. As innovators, it’s important to remain open-minded about the right solution for breaking the problem barrier.

What makes an innovation system work is the ability to organize and label an approach to problem-solving. This approach can then be cultivated when reaching out to a crowd of individuals from different industries and experiences.

Dr. Szajnfarber’s degree from MIT in aerospace engineering and experience working in the industry have changed the way she views problem-solving. As she explained in the IdeaScale Nation podcast, when you’re in school, you conduct analysis to figure out the best solution for a problem. When faced with real-world situations, you realize the compelling notion that people’s lives are at risk.

Open innovation is based on the idea of going outside the traditional organization to find the expertise to solve a problem. This expertise may take different forms. NASA used this product strategy approach when manufacturing a glove worn by astronauts on spacewalks.

The material used to make the glove needed to be durable yet functional, so they reached out to experts in various industries. The final design contained the same materials used for the wings worn by Victoria’s Secret runway models. Though the collaborators came from very different industries, the same idea could be applied to multiple uses due to similarities in the approach.

Group of colleagues sitting around a conference table.
Better employee engagement is one benefit of open innovation.

Realizing the Value of Crowdsourcing

Companies are taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by crowdsourcing innovation to drive results. One way crowdsourcing can enhance innovation is through engagement across the entire organization. Recent surveys reveal 50.8 percent of U.S. employees are not engaged, while 86 percent of crowdsourcing companies report increasing employee engagement as a main motivator.

Dr. Szajnfarber recognized the value of crowdsourcing innovation but realized people didn’t know how to think about large situations where certain decisions need to be made well in advance. She referred to her work at NASA where multi-decade programs require a great deal of planning before execution. “Governments need to worry about choices, how work gets done and making sure senses align.”

Where Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing Meet

When solving any problem, the questions asked should connect to the challenges people face. The solution will depend on how the problem is approached.

As Dr. Szajnfarber explains, “most real problems do not exist in isolation.” Solutions should be integrated into the problem itself, not the other way around.

There is no one plug-and-play solution that will work for any situation. Final solutions will often look very different from the original thoughts of how a problem should be solved, but open innovation through crowdsourcing can help companies achieve groundbreaking results. Download our Crowdsourcing to Innovate Products white paper to learn more today!

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