Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 7 – involving the crowd as a source of competitive advantage 2

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on March 9, 2015

This is my seventh 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 1-6.)

I began discussing the potential role that crowdsourcing can bring to a business in creating innovative opportunity in Part 6, where I focused on in-house crowdsourcing as a mechanism for capitalizing on the full range of experience and insight available within the organization. And it is important to remember in this context that most of the time, a great deal of what a business’ employees could offer is never even noted let alone tapped into. This can mean out of the box insight where a non-managerial or managerial level employee who works in a seemingly unrelated part of the business, sees unexpected opportunity from applying an approach they use in their work in an unexpected and novel context – but to great positive benefit. It can mean tapping into the full range of skills and experience that all of the people at a business could potentially bring to the table – and not just the much more limited and often stereotypically and even cartoonishly understood image of what they do day-to-day now.

My goal for this discussion is to follow that in-house oriented view of crowdsourcing and what it can offer, with a matching consideration of the role that wider, outwardly-reaching crowdsourcing can play too. So I begin writing here about tapping into the marketplace and into the insight that can be gained from a business’s customers. And I begin writing about the value that can be gained from more effectively reaching out to supply chain partners as sources of potentially valuable insight. And I begin writing here of the potential that crowdsourcing can bring to the hiring process and to employee retention. And ultimately, I write of throwing as wide a net as possible when looking for innovative insight so as to capture as wide a range of innovative value as possible. My goal moving forward in this series as a whole includes discussion of all of these outwardly including crowdsourcing scenarios, offering them as working examples of what can be made possible here. And after delving into these specific scenarios and their issues and opportunities, I will follow that part of this overall discussion with a balancing discussion of the due diligence and risk remediation issues that crowdsourcing brings up.

I start all of that with the first scenario that I briefly noted above, as the specific area of focus for this series installment.

Tapping into the marketplace and into the insight that purchasing customers and product end users can offer as sources of innovative value: The clearest starting point for this scenario is a simple acknowledgment of what should be a very obvious point. Ultimately, it is the marketplace and its consumers that serve as arbiters in determining the value of the products and services that they are offered. If these people see a specific product offering from some specific business as best, they will preferentially want to buy and use it and that business will gain its financial strength and its competitive position from that recurring decision. If these marketplace participants do not see value in a business’ offerings, because for example they see its innovations as gimmicky or of trivial real value to them, then it does not matter what the owners and managers of that business, or its employees see in their marketplace offerings.

Now flip this reasoning around. If the customer is the ultimate determinant of what is and is not valuable and useful to them, and worth their purchasing and using, the customer is also the best source of insight as to what they would want, that would be of value to them. They see and remember points of satisfaction and of irritation with the products and services that they encounter and use. They know what features would or would not offer value to them – and this can mean thinking about what is already out there and available, but it can also mean thinking through what they would like to see that no one seems to offer, at least yet. This can mean wish list features that if offered, could set the business that does so apart.

• Tapping into the crowd for this can mean asking for insights and feedback, and in a more open-ended manner than simply asking for opinions about the specific products just purchased and already available.
• First of all, this can also include asking for suggestions as to features that the consumer would see as valuable – and asking what they would see as less valuable. One way to couch that would be to as something like this: “If you were able to add one more feature to this product what would you add? The catch is that one feature or detail that is currently offered would go, so as to prevent turning this product into a million feature nightmare. So if you add in a new feature, what one already there is least consumer-useful and least consumer-valuable and would have to go?”
• Assume that some and even many responders would cheat on the specific rules of that pair of questions and only note a new feature to add, or an old one to delete that they see as extraneous or badly implemented, or otherwise problematical. The results of this type of survey would be taken in aggregate, and as indicators of precisely where current features and details might be problematical – in their specific current implementation or in general. And this could also be used to identify recurring wants, and types of new features that would positively impact upon the consumers of your business’ target markets and in significant enough numbers to merit development.
• Be sure to ask why in these survey questions, and give responders opportunity to offer text answers and not just give more readily statistically analyzed numerical responses. Note that while the later are much easier to work with, yes and no, and numerical scale question and response systems rarely allow for insight that you would not be able to readily predict in advance.
• Then take this process one step further towards completing a cycle. This type of outreach campaign and its findings can be used in business-to-consumer marketing for any new products and innovations that are developed, and this process and its crowdsourcing can be explicitly used to help generate consumer-to-consumer viral marketing too, and positive buzz.

I am going to end this series installment here, at that point. I will continue this discussion of outwardly involving crowdsourcing in a next series installment where I will turn to the second of three scenarios that I noted towards the top of this posting:

• Reaching out to supply chain partners as sources of potentially valuable insight.

And after that, I will turn to the third of these scenarios and explore how outwardly facing and involving crowdsourcing can be used in the new employee hiring process and in improving employee retention. 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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