Innovation – forget the words Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing

Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing have become buzz words of late which is a shame as it encourages those who blindly adopt best practice to jump on the bandwagon. It is often said that to truly understand a situation you must know enough to be afraid and there are too many consultants pushing concepts on unsuspecting businesses and organisations without really understanding what they are telling organisations to do.

The thing is that Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing really are valuable tools in our quest for Innovation. When innovating we have a dilemma, do we try to keep the fruits of our labours secret for as long as possible to secure as great a competitive advantage as possible, or do we throw our net outside of our organization to gather the maximum number of ideas and encourage communications/interactions with outside (and possibly competitor) organisations?

There are many issues surrounding Open Innovation, such as how to manage it, how to select the participants/collaborators and exploiting the results. Much of this is common sense if you have your wits about you. Essentially you have a choice, keep it in house or look outside, perhaps even conducting your business in public as some educational establishments do. The aim though, is to understand, not blindly follow the ‘How To Innovate For Dummies’ guide.

The fuel for Innovation is ideas and to generate ideas we need people to interact with each other. The more debate and creative tension, the higher the quality of ideas generated and the greater their number will be also. To get to this stage we need more bodies, a crowd. Crowdsourcing is effectively outsourcing the generation of ideas and the solution of problems to a crowd. The UK government’s attempt to gather ideas for policies via their website is an example of this. Your crowd can communicate remotely or be in the same location (see the Open Space technique) and interaction fuel debate or facilitate building of ideas.

Once again there are issues such as managing your crowd and capturing ideas, but once you are aware of the principle of Innovation then everything is pretty much common sense.

So please forget the words Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing but do learn as much as possible about them, understand the concepts and employ them properly. If you really do know enough to be afraid then you understand the concepts fully enough to be able to employ them to create success for your organisation.

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Crowdsourcing – why it may not work for you

This is not an attempt to malign the use of crowdsourcing as a valuable technique, it is simply a way of pointing out that it is not a ‘cure for all ills’ as some people seem to think. Any technique used incorrectly or inappropriately can be at best ineffective and at worst damaging or disruptive (in terms of both cost and reputation).

Following the recent election and subsequent formation of a coalition government here in the UK, much was made of the need to consult widely and get the input of real people to help in the formation of government policy. Ignoring the fact that this was probably a political ploy and that nearly all of the suggestions collected have been ignored completely, this was never going to work. But why?

The first (and possibly least important) reason was the method of idea collection. Simply gathering ideas electronically via bulletin boards or email is a very blunt instrument and places limits on how much people can say. Neither does it allow other contributors to build or add to the contributions of others. This would be a very good time to build a huge virtual nominal group!

Secondly, the biggest error when attempting to make radical (or progressive as the government labelled them) changes is to consult those at the sharp end, the people who are involved in day to day delivery. This seems harsh at first, but if you think about it the resulting ideas are not likely to be radical, just ways of trimming costs or reducing waiting times. The question for this group of people is ’what should the service look like?’ not ‘how should the service be delivered?’. These people can still participate in consultation but with a different label. They need to take a step backwards and see the bigger picture.

Rather than try to trim money from everyone’s budget, a holistic view is needed. Just as in a business when Marketing and Finance are no longer contained entirely within their respective departments, our new government should take a wider view. The questions should be ‘what is the best way to provide relevant education for our children?’ rather than ‘how can we keep exam grades up and chop 40% from the budget?’ To answer these types of questions simply asking people their opinion will not do. Maybe this is not coalition thinking and radical and progressive politics really are not on the agenda.

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