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Internal crowdsourcing is a powerful tool for engaging employees and opening up new sources of innovation — that is the conclusion four year study published this year on the MIT Sloan Management review titled “Developing Innovative Solutions Through Internal Crowdsourcing”. The authors conducted in depth analyses at three large organizations in retail, healthcare and telecommunications, providing guidance and overseeing internal crowdsourcing efforts, and worked with another seven companies collecting data on crowdsourcing challenges. As the authors put it:
Because many large companies have pockets of expertise and knowledge scattered across different locations, we have found that harnessing the cognitive diversity within organizations can open up rich new sources of innovation. Internal crowdsourcing is a particularly effective way for companies to o engage younger employees and people working on the front lines.
Comparison of external and internal crowdsourcing from the study Developing Innovative Solutions Through Internal Crowdsourcing
The study also identified common roadblocks to successful internal crowdsourcing. They include focusing on incremental adjustments rather than broad innovation, lack of time and hesitation over participation, and lack of feedback. To address those roadblocks, the authors suggest seven action steps for developing successful campaigns:
- Keep the focus on long term innovation
- Give internal crowdsourcing participants slack time
- Allow for anonymous participation
- Ensure that company experts don’t exert their influence too heavily.
- Use a collaborative process for internal crowdsourcing
- Design platforms that facilitate shared development and evolution of solutions
- Be transparent about plans for follow-up post-crowdsourcing
Laissez was built to facilitate that process — our challenge driven model enables users to easily create innovation sprints, and quickly gather submissions across the entire team.
As an example of success, the authors mention the company Li & Fung, which asked employees worldwide to submit their ideas on an online platform. Using pre-established criteria, a team of executives and internal experts selected the most promising ideas. Employees also had opportunities to vote on the best ideas, narrowing the selections down. In the final stage, teams presented the solutions to a senior team that oversaw the challenge, and the top three teams were then asked to refine their solutions and present a broader set of executives.
Internal crowdsourcing is a powerful tool, but has to be managed well to yield the best results. In addition to having good crowdsourcing tools, managers need to be aware of best practices. Laissez streamlines the process of creating challenges and makes it readily accessible for everyone, so that managers and participants can focus on what matters — defining problems and coming up with the best ideas.
Laissez is completely free and it takes less than a minute from signup to creating your first challenge and inviting participants — give it a try!
The latest issue of the Harvard Business review has an article on design thinking, discussing how it might be as big of a game changer as total quality management. It carries the potential to radically improve processes and unleash people’s creative energy.
Successful process innovation must deliver three things: better solutions, lower costs, and employee buy-in. Asking new and different questions in what is called the discovery process can help teams discover better ideas and solutions. It’s well known that the best solutions usually are those that incorporate user-driven criteria, with diverse voices brought into the discussion. What has to be managed is the time spent exploring a problem versus being too impatient to take the time what to ask.
A new process won’t succeed without employees getting behind it – and the best route to winning support is to involve employees in the process of generating ideas. But again, with the involvement of many people with different perspectives comes the necessity to tame the many points of view that may arise – and design thinking fits that bill, by bringing in a set of structures to facilitate productive thinking.
As explained by Kaaren Hanson, Facebook’s design product director:
“Anytime you’re trying to change people’s behavior, you need to start them off with a lot of structure, so they don’t have to think. A lot of what we do is habit, and it’s hard to change those habits, but having very clear guardrails can help us.”
Many of the methods design-thinking concern identifying the “job to be done.” This usually begins with immersion in user experiences that enable deeper insights. One example is the Gallery Walk exercise, where key stakeholders are invited to tour a gallery important data gathered during the discovery process and highlight the bits of data they consider essential. In small teams observations are shared, combined, and sorted by theme into clusters for insights. This is a way of avoiding having innovators will be too influenced by their perspective. The process creates a common understanding and facilitates interactions and reaching shared insights.
After this idea generation process, the assumptions underlying ideas will have been carefully vetted, ensuring success is achievable. They will have the buy-in of dedicated teams, tasked with bringing them to fruition.
Then comes testing. Prototyping is often regarded as a process of fine-tuning a something already largely developed. However, in design thinking prototyping is about users’ iterative experiences with a work in progress, meaning radical changes – even complete redesigns can happen during the process. Design thinking requires the repeated creation of prototypes: simple, low-cost artifacts capturing the essential features of the proposed user experience. They are different than “minimum viable products” that are often used to test with customers, and their most important quality is flexibility: the goal is to learn by exposing users to them, and have their incompleteness invite interaction. And this cyclical prototyping and testing continues until the project is delivered.
Design thinking creates a continuous flow from research to delivery. Immersion produces data, turned into insights, so that teams agree on criteria used for solutions. Assumptions of those solutions are then examined and tested with rough prototypes that yield valuable lessons for the development of further refinements and for real-world experiments.
By involving all stakeholders in the framing of the problem and the process of developing solutions, design thinking garners commitment to change. This helps innovators collaborate and agree on the essentials at each step along the way. And by shaping the experiences innovators, stakeholders and implementers, design thinking enables better ideas to come to fruition and ensures successful solutions.
In a recent blog post, Eugene Ivanov explores the method of “reverse crowdsourcing” – asking the crowd questions about the problem itself. As an example, researchers at Harvard Medical School asked the crowd: what do we not know to cure Type 1 diabetes? Are there “neglected” problems off the radars of the existing Type 1 diabetes research groups? Among the winning contributions, one submitted by a diabetes patient that could provide a unique perspective on the type of challenges faced by diabetes patients, a perspective that can’t be offered by a healthy individual.
The same approach of using crowdsourcing to combine scientific knowledge of doctors with the knowledge of patients been expanded and further developed by researchers at the Open Innovation in Science Center (OIS Center) in Vienna, Austria. They are huge proponents of crowdsourcing research questions. As OIS Center operational manager Lucia Malfent puts it:
Open Innovation is a big opportunity for science and leverages new ways of cooperation. At the interface between science, business and society, new and previously uninvolved players can get a voice. When a large crowd from all over the world shares its knowledge and contributes to generating novel ideas, new solutions and especially new research questions will arise.
The OIG center applied the method to the issue of mental illness. Patients, their caregivers, doctors were asked to highlight unresolved problems and open research questions in the field, with 40% of contributions coming from patients. The crowdsourcing campaign identified an area of mental health research in need of more attention: the mental health of children and adolescents with mentally ill parents. Since then, two research projects addressing this issue have since been launched.
The OIG Center’s next target, earlier this year, was orthopedic traumatology, with a crowdsourcing campaign called “Tell Us!”. The researchers want to generate novel and original research questions, both from experts and patients, that have previously not been properly addressed in the area of traumatology research. You can check the status of the crowdsourcing campaign “Tell Us!” campaign he project website is www.tell-us.online.
Crowdsourcing useful ideas depends on two key factors: the first one who is your crowd. As innovation consultant Eugene Buff argues, there is no way to choose the “right” participants. Good ideas can come from anywhere, and expertise in a field is not a requirement for developing viable solutions. Imaginatik has also shown with their own data that there is no correlation between job title and the expected value of an idea.
Secondly, as Eugene argues, properly defining the problem you want to solve is key. By providing the crowd with clear, precise, and preferably quantitative requirements for a solution, submission quality is dramatically increased. In addition, it also facilitates the job of evaluating proposals quality, as it makes lower quality ones more clearly defined.
And how do you formulate a good question? Peter Drucker in his 1954 book The Practice of Management delineates what became known as SMART criteria – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Of course there is no one size fits all guideline – innovation can be subjective – but when framing your problem, it is a good idea to ask yourself how well you check off the SMART checklist.
For more insightful discussions on creating good challenges, check out Eugene’s blog at https://innovationobserver.com