Crowdsourcing vs. the Natural Creative Process


3 New Approaches to Innovation Ideation

Accelerated attention is being given to the latest craze of leveraging crowdsourcing models to deliver innovative ideas to those that can use them; for commercialization purposes, to facilitate research or deliver new military advantage. Countless companies are springing up to manage the process for companies seeking answers to technology challenges. Though the government has done this for some time through RFI’s and now through SBIR/STTR submissions, by using the internet and reaching more possible “solvers” the sheer number of possible submissions creates a favorable environment for the buyer of ideas. Anyone who has ever used this process knows two things: one, the costs of eventually paying for the idea can be so small that it is just too enticing to give it a try, and two, the vast majority of submissions are worthless. However, the golden egg in the bunch can make the whole effort worthwhile. Sounds like Las Vegas.

Crowdsourcing is a brute force approach to innovation and is NEVER successful by itself. Even those that purport to offer crowd-sourcing platforms for innovation are really just selling consulting services on how to “shape the challenge” to encourage the best responses. And this is where crowd-sourcing falls apart.

Crowdsourcing as a means to publish needs and gain awareness for your needs is indisputable. However, there are several fundamental problems with the model. First, pitching your need accurately and in a VERY constrained way will determine your return. Second, not knowing the ENTIRE domain knowledge of the issue may open you to ideas that are not innovative but rather just the latest in other’s thinking. Crowdsourcing is fertile ground for plagiarizers (and the rest of the world rarely has the same respect for copy write and IP laws that we do). And most importantly, third, the crowd sourcing process actually inhibits creativity by advancing a process that limits the creative person’s greatest tool; differentiated thought.

Ask any creative collaborator and they will tell you that in any given situation they are thinking ON THE MARGIN. They take in what is being said and discovered. They assess and contemplate the ideas and innovations of others. They formulate a unique, differentiated idea NOT WITHIN WHAT IS BEING CONSIDERED but rather OUTSIDE WHAT IS BEING CONSIDERED. Crowd-sourcing takes this valuable insight away from the creative person. Idea submission is in a vacuum. Rarely is there a real time awareness of the ideation process as it is unfolding. What should be a fluid dynamic process has become, in fact, a static, discrete process; like obsolete software, almost batch in nature. I suggest 3 new approaches:

  1. We need to redefine the crowd-sourcing process for innovation. This cannot be a RFI/SBIR submission process. We need a platform where all ideas can be seen and examined. We need a real-time ideation platform that offers the idea creator the real time assurances that when he or she submits an idea that is creative the process allows for credit, idea protection and provides immediate financial support to further develop the idea.
  2. We need centers of excellence on key topics where ideation can flourish. Combine Linked In Groups with a structure for protecting idea creation and accountability. Wherever communities exist around domain knowledge a new structure for protecting the VALUE of ideas can be implemented. What academia once was (before Bayh-Dole) can serve as a model of how respect for ideas can lead to acceleration of innovation.
  3. At PlazaBridge Group, we launched a Product Innovation Lab that encourages collaboration on new business solutions. We intend to encourage innovation through greater on-line participation in the ideation phases of development and will protect those participant’s contributions.  We promote this as a trend in the world of “Innovation Labs.”
Richard Spangler, General Partner and Chief Innovator at Plazabridge Group.

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