It’s June and that means it’s thesis season! Every spring at IdeaScale, we start receiving requests from undergraduate and graduate students around the globe who are researching crowdsourcing and its potential application in the business world. It is fascinating to hear their project titles and pitches and we try and take the opportunity to share as much information as we can from our IdeaScale resources. But we thought we’d document some of the most common questions below to tell you what you need to know about crowdsourcing.
What are the benefits of crowdsourcing?
There are lots of reasons that someone might use crowdsourcing, but we actually ask our customers and visitors why it was that they turned to crowdsourcing and though the order of reasons has some variability each year – the answers themselves remain fairly consistent. Here are just a few of them:
- The Need for More or Better Ideas. Ideas are the life blood of innovation. If you don’t have a continuous pipeline of quality ideas, then you’re not going to be able to maintain a rapid pace of change. That’s why tapping into the crowd makes ideas a virtually renewable resource. The more people you ask, the more ideas you have. But you have to continue to ask for participation and you should always be looking for more diversity in your audience.
- Aligning and De-duplicating Efforts. If you have a global or large-scale organization, you want the success in one area to be multiplied fifty-fold. That’s when small ideas can have groundbreaking impact. Crowdsourcing allows knowledge transfer to be real time and validated at scale.
- Not Enough Resources to Create Change. Many innovators are working on their own and don’t have sufficient resources or authority to create change on their own. Crowdsourcing allows them to find new allies, validate ideas, and broadcast change organization-wide.
What are the stages of innovation?
Like so many of our answers, the stages of innovation vary customer to customer. Some use Agile methodology, some use design thinking, but whatever method they’re using, we see that there are a few distinct activities associated with innovation and that’s how we created our IdeaScale stages. Here they are described most broadly but these stages can be edited, re-ordered or modified by anyone:
- Strategy. Understanding the problem and developing a plan for action. Do you have a process in place? Who will you reach out to?
- Ideation. Although some customers will introduce some initial criteria or questions, this is the most open part of the innovation process where any idea can be shared, built on, and inspire others.
- Refinement. Some build proposals, some start aligning ideas to programs elsewhere in the company, but in this stage ideas become more than fragments and start becoming more robust solutions.
- Evaluation. At some point, ideas are evaluated for their potential merit, feasbility, etc. Ideas are evaluated to prioritize the allocation of resources. After all, you don’t have budget for everything, so where can you make a reasonable bet to get a valuable return? We did a whole webinar on this subject alone.
- Prototyping. This is when teams begin to build a minimum viable trial to get some initial findings that can be applied to a broader release. Some people use digital prototyping services like TopCoder for this.
- Launch. Those findings inform a more strategic build out that will eventually result in an implemented idea. This means a new process adopted, a new product launch, a new business model introduced. But only ideas that get to this stage become innovation.
What’s your advice on building an innovation culture?
Wow. This is a big, broad question. We’ve seen different programs of all types succeed – even in places where innovation culture was a challenge. But there are a few things that we might offer as advice to improve innovation culture and crowdsourcing success.
- You have to be willing to hear from anyone. This sometimes requires a cultural shift as people often think that the HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) always provides the best idea. Although that might be true, many of the best ideas originated at the bottom or middle. Be willing to hear everyone’s voice on equal ground – and crowdsourcing allows you to prove the value of an idea no matter where it comes from.
- You have to be willing to live with failure. Not just live with it; celebrate it! Failure shows a tolerance for risks which will also lead to big wins. Failures also represent lessons learned and an investment in your employees. If people don’t fear failure, they’re more likely to try new ideas and make suggestions. So when you’re showcasing success, also celebrate the lessons learned and the boldness of a failure.
- Make at least one person responsible for innovation. We haven’t seen an innovation program survive that doesn’t have at least one person at the helm. After all, if everyone is responsible, it means that no one is responsible.
- Align your innovation program with a business need. If there’s a need, then the solution that aligns to it is that much more likely to see the light of day. Delivering on ideas is the best way to build faith in a crowdsourced innovation program. So try to bring your crowd in sync with your business needs.
- Develop a communications strategy. Don’t just send an email. Start by sending one email and then try numerous other channels, messages, and times to reach your audience as well. We have a whole webinar on this subject, too, but since crowdsourcing is inherently social, you definitely need to have a strong communications plan to go with it.
So those are our notes until next year. Let us know what other questions we can help you answer.