Innovation Management Wisdom

Posts with the tag 'crowdsourcing'

The Economist Innovation Conference: Platitudes or Playbook?

“Innovation: Fresh Thinking for the Ideas Economy”, a conference produced by The Economist magazine, starts today at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.

The program announcement includes many of the trendy buzzwords that have become all too familiar to those of us in the innovation trenches–open innovation, social entrepreneurship, bottom of the pyramid, flat world, crowdsourcing and the be-all-end-all, technology…Ugh…double ugh.

Since I’m not planning on attending, I can’t speak with any authority about the outcomes of this conference. It’s not that I don’t feel this conference could be useful. I just find that the vast majority of attendees at these events are mostly consultants and academics who already get it.

I’ve often felt that we were talking to ourselves, validating ethics, ideas and principles that are mostly inarguable. But, these ideas haven’t been practically implemented by the very people who would benefit their organizations and maybe even the rest of us by putting them to use.

They, by the way, also mostly get it, or are at least receptive. They don’t attend these conferences, I suspect, because they can’t implement it..or do attend because they are looking for ways to implement it. They need playbooks, not platitudes, nor quick fix psuedo-solutions.

Our conversations with clients breeze easily over the principles of innovation. They get it. Where they get stuck…and fear-struck, is where we start talking about applying these principles in their organizations. They want the playbook, the nitty gritty details of how we help them implement innovation–or change– in their organizations.

Their concerns pertain largely to the organizational barriers to innovation, or, to put it in simple terms, how not to get fired in the course of deflecting their organizations, with all their histories, traditions and lines of authority, away from the status quo.

Open innovation? Bottom-up ideation? Social entrepreneurship? “Fine,” they say. “How do I get people in my organization to be more responsive to customers when their bosses, whose interests may not be aligned with customers, are the arbiters of their immediate economic security?

The playbook starts with understanding the playing field, or more accurately the organizational mine field, which we describe in “Bridging the Research-Innovation Gap” (available for download on our home page.) Once you know where the mines are, it’s easier to avoid them, survive and even live a fulfilling life as an innovator.

So, I hope this conference marks the beginning of the Ideas Economy 2.0, where we begin to hold as self-evident that encouraging creativity and sharing ideas are good, like motherhood and apple pie. We need more of the playbooks that enable those principles to be exercised.

I’ll be watching.

March 23rd, 2010

Basic Challenges of Crowdsourcing

We are pulled toward shiny, new technology baubles, especially ones that promise greater customer intimacy and profits. Crowdsourcing is gaining traction after a couple of years of finding successful case studies (e.g., Threadless) that prove the concept…at least for specific applications.

Historically, other shiny baubles, like early dotcoms and CRM, lost their luster when they failed to live up to expectations. In hindsight, we learned, “This could be a great addition to our tool chest. We should learn how to use it next time.” History will repeat itself.

Crowdsourcing is so new that there are few real experts in it. But, a critical look at the social and business challenges and Web 2.0 technology platforms that support crowdsourcing reveals important clues about how to manage crowdsourcing effectively.

As Donald Trump once said, “If you manage the downside, the upside takes care of itself”. In her post about the challenges of crowdsourcing, Monica Hamburg does us all a great service by stripping the silvery patina off crowdsourcing and looking carefully at the cold gray steel underneath.

Among Monica’s observations, which I’m paraphrasing, are the following:

  • Questionable wisdom. Not all crowd members act in the spirit of crowdsourcing or are well-intended. Just look at the stream of comments following a Youtube video.
  • Limited demographics. The typical web user is white, middle- or upper-class, English speaking, higher educated and with high-speed connections.
  • Myopic understanding. Crowds may not have enough understanding of your industry to make educated decisions.
  • Limited control. Loss of control can result in crowdslapping, where the crowd turns on you and your brand. This may not be avoidable, especially if you want to encourage open dialog, which is the whole point of crowdsourcing.
  • Lower quality. Quality expectations for some tasks should be lower, not higher, depending on the task that you’re asking the crowd to do.
  • Insufficient programming. This is the digital analog to coffee, donuts and engaging events, which, if missing, will result in the crowd moving on.
  • Leadership. Lest your crowd detect they’ve entered a space where anarchy reigns, you’ve got to have a socially astute host who introduces topics, moderates discussions with a light and easy hand and celebrates victory when the crowd takes ground.
  • Exploitation fears. Key contributors expect and deserve rewards for their participation. These need to be spelled out in advance and followed through religiously.

Each of these challenges are overcome with a little forethought and deliberate action. Effective crowdsourcing starts with defining the problem that you’re going to ask the crowd to solve. The assignment needs to be specific, measurable, easily understood, and framed in a way that engages the right crowd.

Threadless is a great example of engaging a crowd to solve attractive new product development problems. The crowd designs t-shirts and votes on the winners. Threadless draws the right crowd, designers who can really design creative, off the wall t-shirts. Their reward system is transparent and straight forward: winning designers get $2,500 in cash and gifts. Their website is fun, engaging and serves as a catalyst for a creative community of talented artists.

Underlying their website is a savvy set of facilitators who change the website each day, posting recently submitted designs for sale and votes. This draws in a global talent pool that the company taps successfully and whom extend Threadless’s idea-generating capacity far beyond the walls of the company.

If your company is considering crowdsourcing, your approach should be equally clear and compelling.

This post only covers the basics of effective crowdsourcing. There will be more to come.

July 8th, 2008

Focus Groups vs. Crowdsourcing Debate

Focus groups are out. Crowdsourcing is in.

Those who make a living on the bleeding edge of Web 2.0 are proposing that social networks are replacements for focus groups and other traditional (i.e., “obsolete”) forms of qualitative research. They’re not and here’s why.

Today’s oft recommended solution-du-juor, crowdsourcing, is defined as, “the use of people and companies to help other people and companies for compensation,” according to Paul Poutanen, president of crowdsourcing firm, Mob4hire.

That doesn’t sound so different from focus groups.

But wait, they say. Unlike focus groups, crowdsourcing is inexpensive, unbiased, fast and reliable…because large numbers of customers are collaborating in the innovation process right there with you, in real time.

With crowdsourcing, all you have to do is define a problem, find customers who can solve it, invite them and compensate them for their contributions.  Companies need only facilitate the collaboration process and discern which of their many ideas the company should implement.

That’s unlike focus groups, where you have to define the problem, find qualified customers, compensate them, facilitate the process and figure out which of their ideas to implement.

See the difference???  Neither did I.

The fact is that both crowdsourcing and focus groups have their respective strengths and applications. Both require time and effort. Choosing requires judgement in defining the problem to be solved and in how each tool is most usefully applied.  The chooser must be able describe why one tool was chosen over another in way that is informed, transparent, and imbues decision makers with confidence.

I’ll write more in upcoming posts about situations in which crowdsourcing, focus groups and other tools are optimally used.

In the meantime, remember that information technologies are only tools.  They render value measured by the skills of those who use them.

July 1st, 2008


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