The power of the crowd is increasingly being recognized as a potent tool in problem-solving and innovation. Open innovation, as facilitated through crowdsourcing challenges, provides a pathway for businesses to tap into the collective intelligence and expertise of a diverse group of individuals and companies, transcending traditional company borders. This article delves into the nature of crowdsourcing and its advantages over internal innovation and offers insights into engaging a solver crowd and identifying the best ideas. Furthermore, it provides real-life examples of successful crowdsourcing campaigns.
What is crowdsourcing?
Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed solutions, services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from reaching out to a large group of people and businesses, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers. This model capitalizes on the ability of the crowd to provide diverse perspectives, rapid solutions, and innovative approaches.
Business challenges addressed by crowdsourcing
Crowdsourcing can address a myriad of business challenges:
- Problem Solving: Specific technical challenges can be posed to the crowd to find innovative solutions.
- Product Development: New product ideas or improvements to existing products can be sourced.
- Business Development: New business and technology fields can be detected. Matching candidates for collaboration and new technology partners can be scouted for joint activities. New technologies of a company can be promoted worldwide.
- Market Research: Gathering data and opinions from a broad audience about market trends, customer preferences, etc.
- Content Creation: From writing to design to new technologies, crowds can generate a variety of content.
- Funding: Crowdfunding campaigns can help pre-sell innovative products or raise capital in the early stages.
Crowdsourcing and internal innovation challenges
While internal innovation is valuable and based on deep company knowledge, crowdsourcing offers several advantages:
- Diversity of Thought: Crowdsourcing draws from a diverse global pool, bringing new solutions, varied perspectives, and experiences.
- Spot Innovation Blind Spots: Solutions from the outside help to identify blind spots in internal innovation search areas, processes, and more.
- Cost Efficiency: Often, only the best solutions are rewarded in crowdsourcing, making it cost-effective.
- Risk Diversification: Multiple solutions can be explored simultaneously.
- Speed: A large crowd might provide solutions faster than a limited internal team.
Also, potential downsides of crowdsourcing campaigns need to be addressed:
- (Potential) Loss of Intellectual Property (IP) Control: Sharing problems or projects with the public can expose a company's IP to potential theft or imitation. There's a risk that competitors might pick up on the ideas shared. Adequate protection has to be put in place.
- Confidentiality Issues: Revealing certain challenges or seeking solutions publicly can inadvertently disclose company strategies, weaknesses, or plans. It can make sense to not reveal the company`s name and scout solutions anonymously.
- Quality Control: The diverse pool of contributions can vary greatly in quality. Sifting through numerous submissions to find viable solutions can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. This can be addressed by a set of clearly defined criteria that a contribution/solution has to fulfill.
- (Potential) Dependence on External Motivation: Crowdsourcing sometimes relies on external motivations (like monetary rewards, recognition, or prizes) to engage participants. Incentives have to be seen as valuable.
- Company Culture and Values: External contributors might not have a deep understanding of the company's culture, values, and long-term goals. Solutions have to be screened so that they don´t clash with the company's ethos or brand image.
- Integration Challenges: Even if an external solution is brilliant, integrating it into existing company processes, systems, workflows, timelines, or products can be challenging. Innovation management processes can be set up in a way to address the most common integration challenges.
- Employee Morale: Relying frequently on external sources for innovation may demotivate internal teams. It is vital to give employees and teams an essential role in innovation management and value their contributions. This includes incentives and prizes for employee engagement and also their role in evaluating external innovation input generated by crowdsourcing.
While crowdsourcing can be a potent tool for innovation, it's essential for companies to address the most common potential downsides. Depending on the context, a blended approach - leveraging both internal innovation and crowdsourcing - might be the most effective strategy.
Engage a solver crowd
To successfully engage a crowd, you need
- Clear Communication: Define the problem precisely and provide any necessary background. Use multimedia, templates, and PDFs. Define the Why and What. Make sure that individuals outside your organization understand what you are looking for and how they could contribute.
- Incentivization: Monetary rewards, recognition, or other incentives (e.g., joint pilot projects, collaboration values) can attract and motivate participants. Be very transparent about how the incentives work and who benefits.
- Communication Reach: Make sure you reach exactly the qualified crowd you are interested in with regard to their field of expertise, solutions, maturity (e.g., MVP), sector, and geography. External partners like Innovation World Cup® can provide this tailored reach.
- Platform Selection: Use a reliable and user-friendly platform. The software must be very user-friendly (in the front- and backend), easy to set up and configure, and of course, secure and reliable. Ideally, you can use your own branding or facilitate an existing online community like Innovation World Cup®.
- Feedback Mechanism: Provide continuous feedback to participants, creating a two-way communication channel.
Identify the best ideas from your crowdsourcing challenge
To filter and identify the best ideas from the crowd, you might consider:
- Expert Panels: Assemble a panel of experts to evaluate submissions.
- Iterative Challenges: Allow participants to refine their ideas based on feedback.
- Prototyping: Convert ideas into tangible prototypes to test their viability.
- Peer Reviews: Let participants rate and review each other's contributions.
Examples of crowdsourcing platforms
- Lego Ideas: Allows fans to submit their own ideas for new LEGO sets. Successful ideas, chosen by both the crowd and the LEGO review board, get produced commercially.
- Innovation World Cup Series: International platform connecting techpreneurs (startups, scale-ups, small companies) and corporates successfully through innovation competitions with a global reach of up to +800.000 techpreneurs per sector. It acts as a catalyst for future innovations.
- Uplink from World Economic Forum: A platform connecting entrepreneurs and innovators to address global challenges. It matches innovative solutions with the resources needed to scale them.
- NASA's Tournament Lab: Collaborates with platforms like HeroX to solve specific challenges. Past challenges have ranged from predicting solar flares to 3D printing on Mars.
- Threadless: An online community of artists and an e-commerce website. Artists submit designs, the community votes, and the best designs are printed on apparel and other products.
- Zooniverse: The world's largest platform for people-powered research. Volunteers (known as citizen scientists) can assist professional researchers in everything from classifying galaxies to tracking giraffes in the wild. The data gathered helps scientists in various fields make breakthroughs faster.
Examples of business challenges solved by the crowd
- Netflix Prize: In 2006, Netflix announced a $1 million prize to anyone who could improve its movie recommendation system's accuracy by 10%. The competition attracted over 40,000 teams from around the world. The winning team, which combined the efforts of engineers and researchers, managed to achieve the goal, showcasing the power of diverse perspectives.
- LEGO Ideas: As mentioned earlier, LEGO Ideas is a platform where fans can submit their own designs for new LEGO sets. Successful designs that garner enough support are reviewed by LEGO, and some are produced as official sets. This approach not only engages the community but also sources fresh and innovative design ideas directly from the brand's most passionate fans.
- GE's Flight Quest Challenge: General Electric, in collaboration with Kaggle, launched a competition to improve flight efficiency. Participants were asked to develop algorithms that could reduce airline operational costs and increase efficiencies. The winning solutions provided ways to reduce flight delays and improve operational efficiency, leading to potential multi-million dollar savings.
- Bluetooth Innovation World Cup: Bluetooth SIG launched the Bluetooth Low Energy Standard in 2011. To establish an ecosystem and early adoption of the new standard, Bluetooth launched the open innovation program to create early-stage concepts in different verticals such as sports/fitness, healthcare, and industrial. Hundred thousands of developers and techpreneurs were reached, and hundreds of applications were submitted during the 3 years duration. The Innovation World Cup was a major means for Bluetooth SIG to establish the worldwide leading standard for low-power wireless transmission. Industrial partners like STMicroelectronics or Texas Instruments supported the developers with SDKs to train and adapt the new standard as fast as possible. Today´s success with shipments of more than 3 bio chips annually shows also the tremendous success of this open innovation program.
- Innovation World Cup Series: Organizations and Alliances such as ST Microelectronics, VARTA Microbattery, Google, Gore, Würth, Bluetooth SIG, or LoRa Alliance joined the Innovation World Cup® Series to solve their business challenges, foster their business development, and establish ecosystems based on new technologies.
- Unilever's "Foundry IDEAS" Platform: Unilever launched this platform to address sustainability challenges faced by the company. By engaging with the global community, the company sourced solutions related to water conservation, sanitation, and sustainable sourcing. This initiative not only provided actionable solutions but also showcased Unilever's commitment to sustainability.
- Bosch Open Innovation Partnerships: Systematic open sourcing of innovative products, patents, and solutions that matched dedicated opportunity spaces and search fields within the Bosch universe. Combines crowdsourcing with internal innovation programs.
These examples highlight the vast potential of crowdsourcing as a tool for addressing significant business challenges. By tapping into diverse, global talent pools, companies can access innovative solutions, foster community engagement, and often achieve results faster and more cost-effectively than traditional methods.
Open innovation as a service: ITONICS and Navispace
Crowdsourcing challenges offer a modern approach to problem-solving and innovation, bypassing the traditional boundaries of companies. Businesses that understand how to effectively engage and leverage the power of the crowd can enjoy a competitive advantage in an increasingly connected world.
ITONICS recently partnered with Navispace, one of the most experienced, professional, and global open innovation experts. From events to labs to their unique Innovation World Cup® Series, Navispace is the go-to partner for any open innovation challenge.
Why the partnership?
The Navispace crowdsourcing is now deeply integrated with ITONICS Ideation. Clients can transfer all or part of their incoming solutions from, e.g., the Innovation World Cup, into their internal innovation pipeline. Navispace makes sure your crowdsourcing campaign is a success due to its qualified and tailored outreach to techpreneurs worldwide, and ITONICS is the #1 Innovation OS to scale, automate, and manage all innovation activities.
The perfect match to make the most out of your crowdsourcing campaign!
See the ITONICS Innovation OS in action