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Can the huge numbers of people who use the Internet help us to develop new ideas about products, the use of technology in our processes, alternative sales channels and customer segments?
Given the right conditions, the answer is a resounding “yes”. For example, one idea could be to advertise an open innovation competition and allow the participants to work together on a collaborative basis. The competition could start with a brainstorming phase in which ideas are presented and discussed. This process would lead to the creation of virtual project teams, each of which would be keen to explore a specific idea further. In the next phase, these teams would come together in a virtual meeting room. This room would be protected and accessible only to invited team members. The teams would continue to use the openly-accessible area to share general information about the direction of their work and report any problems or issues in order to gain feedback from the community. This would also allow new members to join the teams if they have a valuable contribution to make. Each project team would also have the chance to pose questions to experts representing the competition organizers. However, these experts would not be allowed to participate directly in the project. In the final phase, the project teams would submit their results and the best teams would be invited to present their solution in person. The winners would receive an attractive reward.
The company organizing the competition should of course lay down certain conditions. To begin with, it would need to ensure that news of the competition was spread far and wide. In addition, the company would need to have effective innovation processes to support the selection procedure and subsequent rapid implementation. These processes would have to be in place already and have been tried and tested in advance.
The necessary technical infrastructure would need to be set up – this would consist of a communication platform in the initial phase and a virtual meeting room in the project phase (with real-time conferencing, web collaboration software and special software if required, such as CAD). However, this would not necessarily involve large-scale investment as these tools would probably already be at the company’s disposal, or be freely accessible. The company should be particularly vigilant when drawing up the rules of the competition (legal framework, identification of participants, structure and stages of the competition, compulsory elements for presentations, etc.).
Naturally, this method is not without risk. The company’s competitors would scrutinize every move. Nevertheless, the benefits to be gained from this approach are likely to outweigh the risks, particularly if the organizer has the outstanding processes and skills needed to turn the innovations into reality as rapidly as possible. There is sure to be a small number of disruptive participants who will be out to undermine good ideas, but experience has shown that the community itself will identify and discredit these individuals. The company can also opt to appoint an observer who will detect any dangers and counteract them appropriately. However, this observer must act discreetly in order to preserve the spirit of the competition and open communication.
One welcome spin-off of this type of initiative is the publicity it generates, particularly if the innovation competition is embedded in an overarching marketing strategy. What’s more, it offers an excellent opportunity to identify talented new members of staff. All in all, crowd innovation is a fascinating concept, provided you take an active approach to managing potential risks and are prepared to put the innovations into practice without delay.