Who’s Making Crowdsourced Innovation Work?

Who’s succeeding at crowdsourcing and other collaborative forms of innovation? According to the State of Crowdsourcing in 2015, a report developed by creative community Eyeka, just about every company that’s successful is. The report finds that 84 percent of 2014’s “Best Global Brands” have used crowdsourcing in the past 10 years. Indeed, big names like General Electric, Coca Cola, and Proctor and Gamble all champion crowdsourcing as a wellspring of new ideas. Why is crowdsourcing so important? Innovation is critical. A 2015 report by PwC contrasted growth rates at the world’s most innovative companies against growth at financial services. “The most innovative companies across all industries are predicting growth of 62 percent over the next five years,” PwC reports. Financial services, meanwhile, predicted average growth of 53 percent. “For a $10 billion financial institution, this translates into a gap of roughly $940 million in revenue at the end of five years,” the report found. Bridging that gap is going to take breakthrough innovation – which, in turn, means going outside of traditional parameters to uncover new opportunities. What can crowdsourcing and collaborative innovation do successfully? Disrupt old thinking. Whether or not you forgive the Frito-Lay corporation for hawking capuccino-flavored potato chips in 2014, the competition for crowdsourced flavors has become an annual event for snack addicts. And it could be that crowdsourcing itself has become as habit-forming as a bowl of sriracha-flavored chips: According to a 2015 Elite Daily survey, 42 percent of millennials say they want to play a role in creating the products they use. Diverse ideas make disruption possible. This is why open innovation is everywhere, from Starbucks and McDonald’s to technology leaders like Samsung and big pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca. By bringing in new players, companies hope to move beyond old barriers. Gauge and engage your market.  Inviting open innovation does more than infuse new ideas: It also engages your market and helps gauge demand. In his talk at THINK13, Wharton School Professor of Practice David Robertson introduced credit union leaders to LEGO Ideas, LEGO’s platform for soliciting and evaluating user proposals for new products and sets. Not only has LEGO Ideas generated successful products for the company, but it’s also helped LEGO refocus its innovation efforts where they matter most. Following a period of unbridled innovation – one that nearly bankrupted the company – crowdsourced innovation has enabled LEGO to tap into trends, determine what’s hot (and what’s not), and create buzz among users. Put more brains on it.  You could argue that Tesla Motors employs some of the best minds in technology. But that didn’t stop founder Elon Musk from enlisting the help of crowdsourcing to find security glitches in Tesla’s cars and on its website. With help from Bugcrowd -- a company that solicits above-board help from hackers around the world – Tesla is paying a bounty to users who report vulnerabilities. So, according to Fast Company, is Fitbit. Sometimes less is decidedly not more, especially when it comes to sheer brainpower.  Collaborative innovation unleashes the power of more -- more brains, more perspectives, more insight into opportunity. Identify and solve problems.  This leads us to another key benefit: Open innovation can help identify and solve the challenges that your members or employees are facing. That said, Jeff DeGraff, self-proclaimed Dean of Innovation at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, suggests a few caveats in a recent Inc. article:
  • Don’t treat everyone and every idea as equal. You’re looking for exceptional ideas and expertise. With the influx of ideas crowdsourcing can bring, it’s easy to lose sight of that.
  • Recognize brilliance and leadership. If you find great ideas or talented contributors, cultivate them.
  • Mix and match to find winning teams. By definition, collaborative innovation brings together people and perspectives from far and wide. Synergy can happen but sometimes requires a little adjustment.