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Crowdsourcing Your Next Big Idea

Posted on  4 October 10  by 

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A recent blog on the HBR Web site outlines the benefits of eliciting business ideas and innovation from the public.  Netflix, GE, and L’Oreal have all recently outsourced business development initiatives through contests.  These crowdsourcing campaigns all led to big business improvements, but the author notes that in order for this type of innovation strategy to work, companies must:

  • Target the right crowd—crowdsourcing doesn’t mean random-sourcing.  Seek out folks with the skills and/or experience you need to develop the best ideas
  • Nurture the network—motivate participants with non-monetary rewards like point redemptions, invitations to corporate events, and consistent communication about how new ideas are impacting your company

MREB view: As the voice of the customer, Research has a clear responsibility to ensure that innovation stakeholders are making decisions based on customer understanding—not just reviewing ideas on the back-end, but prescribing them at the beginning of the innovation process.  The challenge is that to uncover truly new and boundary-pushing ideas we must go beyond our traditional interpretation of mass-market consumers.  We need to identify and engage specialist-users who can truly tell us something we don’t already know.  (MREB members, see how Lego piloted the specialist-direct model in their own innovation process)

Specialist-users provide the market-forward ingenuity necessary to inform the corporate innovation pipeline, but these folks are, of course, a bit trickier to locate and work with.  When reaching out to your expert customers, keep the following challenges in mind:

  1. Identifying specialist-user profiles is tricky, and the appropriate profile can change at each stage of the innovation process.  Jack in the Box Inc. builds specialist-user profiles back from business objectives at each stage of the innovation process.
  2. Finding your specialist users can be difficult because they are often at the fringe of your user base. One appliance manufacturer works with its internal innovators to create an effective screener to identify the specialist-users it requires.
  3. All business partners involved in the innovation process will need to work with specialist-users, so you’ll need to help innovation staff work with the specialists.  Adobe arms different innovation staff with varying levels of customer-engagement capabilities, depending on the interactions they will have with the specialist-users.
  4. Specialist-users don’t have backgrounds in your corporate innovation process, so you’ll need to help channel specialists’ innovation productivity.  General Mills uses a workshop to help the product development team teach specialty-users the necessary business context to innovate while creating “guardrails” against introducing organizational biases.

Have you used specialist-users in your own innovation process?  Or implemented a crowdsourcing campaign to garner new ideas?  Tell us about it in the comments section below.

Comments from the Network (1)

  1. Outliers & Observations » “All of Us is Smarter Than Any of Us”
    on June 17, 2011

    [...] smarter than any of us.”  This quote from Douglas Merrill got me thinking – about things like crowdsourcing (basically, ‘outsourcing’ projects to the public or group of people rather than assigning it to [...]

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