Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 6 – involving the crowd as a source of competitive advantage 1

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 3, 2015

This is my sixth installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-5.)

Up to here in this series, I have been focusing entirely on in-house originated innovation, and more specifically on innovation that arises from a single creative individual in a business, or from a specifically organized team within a business. For the second of these scenarios:

• Such a team might be self-organized and assembled from employees who know, or at least know of each other and who self-select to work together on an innovative project,
• Or it might be outside-organized through a mandate coming from management (as discussed in Part 5.)

But in either of these situations at least up to here, the innovative drive and insight that would be capitalized on and developed come from clearly defined sources, and from what could perhaps be more properly considered closed-source pools of possible participants as found within a single business.

I turn here to consider the more open-sourced innovation of crowdsourcing:

• As it can be developed and capitalized on both within the organization,
• And from the outside, as for example when drawing insight from the marketplace.

My goal for this aspect of this series is to at least start considering both of these possibilities and with a goal of offering and discussing specific, real-world example scenarios through which each of them might best apply. And I begin that in-house and with two scenarios out of many possibilities, that I offer here to illustrate more general principles.

Crowd-sourced in-house innovative teams: So far in this series, I have cited and discussed self-assembled innovative teams that come together through direct work experience and from direct networking connections in that workplace. And in this I include people coming together who directly know each other already and I also include the possibility of team members being recruited into these efforts through shared direct acquaintances who know the people involved and what they can do and who can arrange for them to meet. I have also cited outside-mandated and assembled innovation teams that are brought together from decisions made by more senior members of that business’ management: and that would in general include people they knew. I add here, a third mechanism for assembling innovation teams: in-house crowdsourcing.

The basic impetus for this is fairly straight forward. The larger and more widespread the organization, the lower the percentage of its employees that anyone there would know, and certainly well enough to know more about them than just their current work title and basic area of responsibility – now. But effective innovation teams almost always require expertise and experience from a range of specialty areas, and certainly when planning out and doing initial development work through at least a proof of principle stage, for what could be a productive source of new value for the organization. And the best, most creative and effective ideas and insights sometimes come from the least expected places – if given a change to present themselves for consideration. My point here is that the core members of a proposed innovative team do not necessarily know the best, or even the right types of people to bring in to round out their skills and experience base – and particularly when that means stepping out of the smooth straight path of already-developed in pursuit of the disruptively new and innovative.

I have written of approaches and resources for widening the effective team inclusion reach here, where for example employees can post about what they do and their experience and skills through intranet-based in-house social media and business social networking resources (see Connecting an Organization Together, Version 2.0 and Creating Value from Constructive Conflict 2: thinking through the creative commons as a practical, effective business resource.) I write here of opening up the team recruitment process by also letting employees have the opportunity to search out innovation team participation opportunities (e.g. on an intranet-based bulletin board) and opt-in to ones that really catch their interest. The idea here, as noted above is straightforward and simple: open up the range of at least potential team members for a self-assembled innovation team to include essentially everyone there at the business with the requisite skills and experience, and who would be allowed to contribute time and effort to this from their regular work schedule. And as an extra benefit, this approach can bring in new insights and from directions that team founders would not know to even consider, and starting with their initial interviews with potential crowdsourced, self-selected team candidates.

Open in-house innovation challenges: The above applies when an employee in a business comes up with an initial innovation idea and seeks team-level help in developing it into a fully realizable new product or service and with enough details and enough types of detail worked out to validate its overall feasibility. Now let’s consider the open challenge approach where a problem has been identified that would call for a novel and innovative solution if it is to be effectively addressed. But unlike the situation that I addressed in Part 5 where one or more people from more senior management directly assemble a team to work on this challenge, they in effect throw this problem to the crowd as a challenge that anyone can offer a contribution towards resolving. And this might mean a single innovator coming forth with an initial great sounding idea but even then, fleshing this out with the work-based detail needed to validate it as a practical, prototyped solution is likely to call for a team effort – once again with a range of specialties contributing.

But this segment of this posting is not so much about teams or individual innovators. It is about opening up a conversation that anyone can contribute to, that would increase the probability that as many good ideas, prosaic or innovative can have an opportunity to rise to the top and be considered and tried.

And this brings me to the second basic crowdsourcing option that I noted at the top of this posting, where value can be developed and brought into an organization from the outside, as for example when drawing insight from the business’ targeted marketplace. I will continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will begin exploring a set of three outside-sourced crowdsourcing scenarios. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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