Crowdsourcing as a idea shaker for innovation

Cocktail shaker twistedSometimes my friends and colleagues called me a genious:)

As specialist of business incubation, I use creativity methods to co-create with client and other Customer Insight and User Experience technics to design relevant services and if possible innovative ones. By doing so, I was convinced that crowdsourcing is an interesting tool to energize ideas to get innovation, not the immediate source of supersonic ideas. In one word, I was not convinced that it can be so powerful to generate from zero a something astonishing.

The world of ideas is small and it tend to be smaller with the internet.

Thanks to internet we access at the same time at the same external stimuli. That’s the reason why you have a kind of serie rules. For example: VOD platform with User generated Content. How many entrepreneur tryed to reply this idea with a different axis. How many succeed in? You should tell me, don’t forget Long Tail theory. Small rivers feed big oceans true. Getting idea is good, transform them in true business that better. The first who have the idea is a researcher, the one to make money with, is an entrepreneur. The world is small, the competition is fierce and it will be wilder as the money will become rare, and rare.

Like the shaker picture on the left, I twisted the ideas shaker: I crowdsourced, the crowdsourcing concept using my huge network.

Below you will find answers of worldwide specialists.

Stefan Vermeulen

« Dear Sandrine,

I like your question a lot! Mostly because it is so ‘open’ to be interpreted in many different ways. And also because it is not – by definition – following the ‘hype of crowdsurfing’.

Personally, I believe one should first have a clear understanding on soe sort of definition on crowdsurfing. I have seen many pass by. None of them being particularly good or bad, but for me crowdsourcing is outsourcing a task that is traditionally performed by f.i. an r&d employee or contractor to an undefined, generally large group of people.

I did not read Jeff Howe’s book on crowdsourcing, but I did read many articles – including his original Wired article – on the topic. Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon and other major Web brands started crowdsourcing by opening their proprietary code for some of their key API’s to freelance developers. They let go their ‘not invented here’ approach and realised there is a lot of creativity out in the world they cannot manage. Nowadays, I believe crowdsourcing is most often being used as a term to describe the trend of mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies.

That said, my opinion on the topic.

At the end, I believe any sound business needs customers. People need to be paid. If you let customers, partners or independent entrepeneurs work for you, at the end you still have to pay them somehow. So, the big question is: can your company do it better, faster, smarter and so on than the crowd picking up your open call. Furthermore, as a company you have clear business goals. For many companies ‘innovation’ is their competitive advantage. How much you want to be dependent on others regarding your competive edge?

At the end, each company will adapt a different level of crowdsourcing. I definately believe each company should involve – per default – customers in the product development process. Also, you want to have access to the bright professionals that do not want to work for you FOR your company, but that would love to work WITH our company.

The term ‘crowdsourcing’, however, for me is nothing else than a hype. If you don’t use web 2.0 collaboration possibilities yet in your innovation process, you have to seriously investigate if they can be of any help to you. But not all is done by internet only, talk with your customers, follow them in their life, identify key partners, make a person or department clearly responsible for innovation. That’s the way to go.

My 2 cents 🙂 For what’s it worth 🙂 Feel free to drop me a line if you’d like to discuss it a bit more!

Stefan »

Richard Tabor Greene

« Page’s new Princeton Univ. book on managing differences lays out the research on this. Crowdsourcing works ONLY on prediction tasks–any OTHER tasks it is a miserable failure at. So how much of innovating is prediction? Some, up front, on assessing what needs are now and what needs will appear/change in the near future, so that much of innovating may benefit from crowdsourcing. However, the diversity of ideas one gets about imagining new ways to meet needs, from crowdsourcing, is GREATLY diminished by trend, social pressure, and conformity effects so that huge crowds offer little diversity in many topic areas and imagination by them is stunted. It is not crowds that imagine well it is extremely diverse collections–what is called technically « stratified samples ». See my articles and books below for 45 approaches to innovating and their diverse requriements. Since innovating is at least 45 things not one thing there are NO general conditions that « help » it in general, though a million professors/consultants will sell you something they say does that. Beware. »

Bruno Roques
« Hi Sandrine,

I think you had 2 wise answers already. My best one here would be to say « it all depends on the wisdom of the crowd ». And in order to check that, I’d recommend you meditate on the research paper here below.

Bruno. »

Niall O’Groman

« The best place to start is Jeff Howe’s June 2006 article in which coined the phrase « Crowd Sourcing »

As an example for his latest book, he Crowd Sourced the UK cover art

Crowdsourcing is a wonderful tool which can enhance an organisations existing innovation toolkit. It is not a replacement for traditional product/service development processes and proceedures, however it can
– shorten the development and refinement cycle for a given product/service
– help cut down on the cost of getting direct feedback from your customers.
– significantly increase the sample size.
– allow you to extend the surveys reach across geographies, verticals that were cost prohibitive in the past.
– increase the number of A/B scenarios that can be tested. »

Raman Vaidyanathan (One of my favourite)

« Sandrine

Crowdsourcing or open sourcing is an important innovation strategy for any organization:

1. Listen to your customers and their opinions
2. User enabled innovations [Different users mighjt have modified it differently for their purpose]
3. Sourcing entrepreneurs [A company can only so much, the area is vast, so you have to incubate entrepreneurs to create innovations for you]
4. Invitation for open source innovation [If they already have an innovation and they want to sell it to you for a royalty fee etc.]
5. Open source innovation from your employees [your employees should be your first users and they have to contribute to open source innovation and ideas without any barriers]
6. In all the above, one has to create a way to provide monetary rewards or support

So, crowd sourcing is a IMPORTANT tool of innovation and staying ahead. How many companies have been started from using a product and realizing that it could have been better by the user? Infinite. Create a medium [particularly an internet medium] where employees, customers, user innovators can benefit from their innovations related to your product.

Good Luck »

Wallace Jackson

« Does CrowdSourcing represent a good tool for Innovation? Not in and of itself.

Innovation involves creativity, not simply a sourcing model or methodology. WJ »

C. Sven Johnson « Assuming you don’t *already* have an opinion on this topic – which I suspect you do, considering your « Serial Incubator » identifier – rather than offer my opinions or recommend books filled with someone else’s opinions, I’d suggest you form your own from firsthand experience.

The Institute For The Future’s free « SuperStruct » forecasting/serious game/crowdsourcing innovation effort starts in a few weeks and only lasts for six weeks. It might provide a fun, thought-provoking introduction and give you a sense of the possibilities.

For something more traditional (if that’s possible), or if you’re just looking for a service you can leverage for your own purposes, try one of the current innovation crowdsourcing efforts already in operation. » Miha Ahronovitz« Crowdsourcing requires a good definition of what work you want done. So, if you have an ingenious design of your modules with enough specs to attract workers, the project will succeed. Look at Wikipedia. There is a need of editors and moderators.Ideally you will need somehow to rate the contributors, like on ebay and pay more for a higher rated contributor.

There are no experts on Crowdsourcing. You will become one if you start your project and then write an article describing it’s degree of success or failure. You will be a great innovator and motivator, if you succeed. »

Stuart Oliver

« It certainly can be but…you need to be good at decided whether you are « listening » to the Wisdom of Crowds or the Ignorance of [the] Masses.

Even seen a line of people standing in front of a closed door, waiting to get in. The guy in second place, and everyone else behind him, never checked to see if the door was locked. The guy at the front is waiting to finish a cal on his mobile before going in. So, as a bystander, does the « wisdom of crowds » theory tell you that the door is still locked and you have time to get a coffee? For many the answer is yes.

For me, the answer lies in « trust but verify » i.e. « I’m sure that all those guys are right but I’m going to check for myself »

S »

Jennifer Davis

« Joseph, you have received some great answers and resources here. I love the concept of crowdsourcing and its growing popularity, but let’s not forget that it has its roots in something that has been successful for centuries…listening to customers and designing product to meet their needs. Crowdsourcing might be a way to accellerate this, getting input and iterating faster than was possible in the past, but the most influential companies always learned from their customers how to be successful.

Also, for all its benefits and promise, I would caution you that crowdsourcing could lead to extraneous features or distraction that might hurt a product in the marketplace, because those helping to influence the design of the offering are not aware of the constraints of your business, the realities of marketing a product in a crowded market, etc. For instance, if the crowd thinks a feature is « free » to add, they might be inclined to add it. When in fact, no feature is free and forced prioritization is what separates the industry leaders from the me-too players.

Good luck to you in your venture! »

Dan Rockwell

« Yes.

However it all depends on the questions you’ve got.

Crowdsourcing on the web is huge playground of innovation. Right now there are people talking about your brand, vocalizing how they’d like to redesign your product or service and its not going to stop, its going to keep happening as more and more people flood the web, share ideas, and innovate with or without you. In fact that’s really the groundswell talking on the web, and its probably too closely related to crowdsourcing which plays a part in groundswell but tends to be a different animal.

The problem most folks have with crowdsourcing are all the unknowns. Who are these people? Why should I approach them? They are not my core customer.. or are they? Again it depends on what it is you’re trying to innovate, and more importantly the questions you’ve got on hand.

From my point of view, crowdsourcing is simply another tool in the toolbox. Its not going to be in depth as contextual inquiry, and while it seems like a focus group its not nearly as real or meaningful, because you’re not in the room, your moderating from afar and you can’t read that body language of confusion, bs, and all that other good human stuff.

This isn’t brand monitoring, or tapping into the groundswell, I can do that in other ways, crowdsourcing is like an army in your pocket- what do you want them to do, and when it comes to innvoation, its really more about tapping 50 to 100 more minds to help you think through something.

This is where I feel crowdsourcing really shines. You’re not alone basically. Its a great way to kick up some data in your head to then approach a longer, more involved research agenda.

There are sites for crowdsourcing logos, websites, ads, you name it but the best place to get your feet wet on the core root of DIY crowdsourcing is going to be Mechanical Turk.

Now here is a living, breathing ecosystem of workers doing a wide range of tasks. It was originally built for programmers to teach computers things computers cant teach themselves. Turk arrived on the scene in 2006 and went from cool to slave labor online! Sad but true, and the thing is, it isn’t Amazon determining the rules of engagement here its humans.

I’ve run a series of human behavior experiments using Mechanical Turk. Essentially exploring the boundaries of what turk workers can do along the lines of design research. They are just like normal participants, but they have limits, and you really don’t know who they are in advance, so the sample you get is random every time.

You can see the latest work here:

What’s really more interesting about Mechanical Turk is understanding how the system has evolved, how and why people do what they do on Mechanical Turk. That has been very interesting. And before ya go « why would anyone ever do x for so little money », ask yourself when was the last time you got paid to search google, check your linkedin page, or participate in any way on the web. I’ve done research on this very issue as well and its clear turks don’t do it for the money.

I will continue to use tools like Mechanical Turk and others. Crowdsourcing fits a very specific niche in what it can provide. At very best, it can help you go from hunch to awww yeah thats it, in the realization of an idea. It allows you to tap more minds, to hone what you are working on. It doesn’t replace traditional research methods. Its not as rich as a face to face deep dive. It isn’t going to give you detailed whys. It’s highly subject to abuse and BS, and ya gotta roll with that result given the price to engage those people is not the same as a face to face with a real human.

However, it still provides some golden opportunity provided you use it wisely.

Dan »

Bogdan Gabriel Andrei
« Dear Sandrine,

YES, crowdsourcing is a valuable tool for innovation process, but JUST this, an auxiliary tool.
Never let the results coming from a crowdsourcing session to be no. 1 in the development process.
All answers above, are very good, and you could learn a lot from them.
For a company, is compulsory to have an innovative engine which to drive for progress, and if this engine couldn’t be built in situ, or is not good enough, exist the viable alternative of outsourcing this process – using crowdsourcing.
But here is place for a lot of discussions and interpretations.
It is a big (huge) difference between crowdsourcing for new product design and a totally new product which include technical innovations.
You can use crowdsourcing for further development for new product/services, but always have the clear limitations fixed, take the results from the crowdsourcing and refines by your guiding lines in order to preserve the identity of your company’s product, and to adapt to your possibilities (financial, materials, intellectual, etc) to follow the results.
You can consider crowdsourcing like an extended brainstorming session.
Should be very analytical in interpreting the results and to apply your conclusions accordingly to the company’s principles.
There is a revers side of crowdsourcing process. When you post a question or a contest on the net with the intention to be solved by the masses, your competitors can see the directive line of the problem, and this way, could anticipate what product are you intend to launch on the market, so… »

Poto Mitan

About Poto Mitan

Sandrine Joseph is a digital communications, social medias strategist and practionner. She is also a Diversity advocate. She is the editor of PotoMitan blog that promotes women in corporations.

1 Comment

  • Francois Castel
    Francois Castel

    Hello Sandrine,

    Lots of great questions and insightful answers on this blog ! Just so the community understands where my comments come from, I am an innovation professional who recently moved from Finland to France and back. Not that my personal life is interesting, but it gave me some fresh insight on the many different successful paths to innovation, and also how it is sometimes so dificult to let go of the paradigms of one’s environment.

    The latter point is, I now think, the key one: Crowdsourcing, as in putting in place mechanisms to throw questions to and get answers from many unknown people, works if it is in line with the values and ways of working of the organisation which tries to use it. If the leadership is question-based and (reasonably) risk-happy, and the barriers for innovation between, say, marketing and R&D are low in your company, then there’s a good chance crowdsourcing will be useful. Otherwise it may well become just an other system and killed after a while for lack of results, since by definition one needs to be ready to get answers from « a crowd with low wisdom », as one of the commenters put it.

    The second aspect of this is to generate the same openness and motivation in the crowdsourcing community. It’s more difficult, or at least less conventional means need to be used, since one doesn’t have the traditional intra-company change mechanisms at one’s disposal. There the Finnish culture provides some interesting pointers: there is a strong respect and interest for one’s environment, but it’s more out of well-understood self-interest than for holistic reasons. And it works. In my mind this points to fairly down-to-earth incentives for crowdsourcing programs, which is good: this is the way all business transactions work, and the more crowdsourcing in integrated into the « usual » ways of doing business the more accepted and useful it probably will be.

    Up here in the North there is a strong tendency to simplify things. I wonder if the above arguments are too simplistic for this discussion ?

    In any case thanks for providing a forum and good luck !


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