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Hottest Trend in Business? Internally Crowdsourced Innovation

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Jul 30, 2018 2:56:49 PM

Collage of a group of people portrait smilingCrowdsourcing is the practice of engaging a group of substantial size for a common goal such as problem-solving, efficiency or just gathering collective knowledge. Because we are all so connected these days through the internet and social media, just about anything can be crowdsourced. Wikipedia is a great example of a valuable resource made possible because of small contributions from millions of people.

Companies have long known that external crowdsourcing is an effective tool for innovation. BMW, for example recently invited ideas for redesigning the interior of one of its latest models. Heineken has something called “The Innovators Brewhouse,” where it invites ideas from customers, suppliers, partners, and others on everything from sustainability to ingredients. (You must be 21 or older to enter.)

Externally crowdsourcing ideas is beneficial in creating connections with customers, increasing brand loyalty, and understanding where the market is going. But it isn’t the best option for problem solving and innovation that requires a deep understanding of a company or involve proprietary information. That’s why more and more organizations are turning to internal crowdsourcing.

Harnessing Knowledge

Companies that embrace internal crowdsourcing of innovation know that employees have a vast amount of collective knowledge that can be leveraged to find breakthrough ideas and solve pesky problems. If you have a call center, for example, you can be reasonably certain that the employees who staff it know how the customer experience can be improved. All those folks you hired recently? They most definitely have ideas about making the interview and onboarding processes better. But without an engagement mechanism for positive change, most people keep this knowledge to themselves. By taking a bottom-up approach to innovation, organizations can allow these ideas for improvement to reach the surface and take action.

Increasing Engagement

Studies show that employee engagement hovers right around 50%, with as many as one-fourth of employees being actively disengaged. That’s an incredibly damaging reality in terms of productivity and innovation. Crowdsourcing innovation improves engagement in a number of ways. First, it signals to team members that their ideas and perspectives are appreciated and value to the organization. It also gives a sense of ownership when it comes to implementing opportunities for improvement, increasing emotional engagement and accountability. Finally, it creates a “new normal,” in which employees see others contributing discretional effort and are socially conditioned to do the same.

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Breaking Down Functional Silos

In his acclaimed work, “The Wisdom of Crowds,” James Surowiecki outlines the conditions in which crowds are wise. One of them is that there is a “diversity of ideas.” That’s difficult to achieve when only the members of a functional team discuss possible solutions to problems or new ways of doing things. It is also possible to be so used to a problematic situation that you fail to notice it. That’s why crowdsourcing innovation beyond the bounds of a department or a team can be so enlightening. Others may have questions or ideas that come from a different point of view. This approach to activating change increases cross-functional collaboration and reduces the chances of groupthink causing paralysis.  

Achieving Rapid Improvement

Asking customers how to improve products and services is a fantastic idea, but they have limited visibility into the available resources and other constraints that you face. Your employees, however, understand the playing field and are less likely to make outlandish suggestions or offer ideas that don’t make sense. This means that you’ll be able to sort through the employee-offered ideas for innovation quickly and select the ones that should be implemented.

Some companies have “innovation sprints,” where intense attention is given to gathering opportunities for improvement over a short period of time. We think this is a great idea, but that it is also essential to have a platform in place for collecting innovative ideas every day. The best news about internally crowdsourcing ideas is that the people who submit them are also in the position to implement them. The changes quickly add up to help your organization overcome hurdles, offer more compelling products or services, and reduce unnecessary waste.

The chances are good that your organization is sitting on a goldmine of marvelous ideas. Innovation crowdsourcing is the way to tap into it and start enjoying the spoils.

Topics: Innovation Software

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