The Complex Relationship Between Crowdsourcing and Innovation

The Complex Relationship Between Crowdsourcing and Innovation

Innovation and crowdsourcing, each with its own set of specific problems, are challenging subjects by nature; for insight practitioners, this means finding out how to carefully manage all subjects as they occur. It's not too much of a challenge to take them on their own, but if we are trying to use crowdsourcing as a way to formulate and create an idea, then that's where things start to get a little complicated.

There are articles relating both the positive and negative impact of crowdsourcing on the pursuit of creativity, exploring success stories and woe tales, all with their own merits and points that we can take into account when using the tool of crowdsourcing to search for creative insights. In this article, my intention is to put together some of the data to discuss why crowdsourcing and creativity have such a dynamic relationship and see what we can do to minimize any problems that might arise.

The Trouble with Crowdsourcing and Innovation

First of all, crowdsourcing is a methodology that, in the form of an open call, outsources a job typically assigned to a specialist to a wide group of clients and customers. So they engage in research that recognizes and brings to life creativity. There have been many positive impacts on creativity in crowdsourcing, such as greater detection and achievement of opportunities, but opportunities are not often realized to the best of their ability. There are also a few limitations that make one really worry about whether the perspectives it provides are worth this technique.

Here are some of the crowdsourcing problems that have been identified:

·         With respect to intellectual property, what happens? If you put concepts out in the air for everybody to see and vote on and change, who owns what?

·         What about the participants and the company's data security and protection? With nothing private, how can you guarantee that your personal data will be safe?

·         When talking together, participants are more prone to derailment and tangents, so we often do not really get any answers at all because they have gone on a different subject.

·         They do not know how to contribute correctly, thus enabling low quality information to filter through the cracks and flood the generated datasets.

·         They are not experts in your profession, they do not know the precision needed to keep the company alive, or the background in which your company thrives, they will lead you at whim in the wrong direction, and they won't even realize they're doing it. An even worse situation would be if they believe they know everything about the landscape in which you work and deliberately, if yet inadvertently, with their views, derail your entire activity.

These ethical and organizational problems mean that it is difficult to navigate crowd-sourced research in the name of creativity, and most of the insights produced are basically useless.

But this does not mean that crowdsourcing in creative initiatives is futile, in fact, there are some significant success stories that help us understand how to manage this minefield, such as Apple and its app creation strategies, Lego's fantastically popular Ideas Network, and Dell's IdeaStorm website that enables customers to create suggestions directly to the technology business. And we need to speak about how we approach the research process to minimize the danger presented by crowdsourcing to both participants and organizations with instances such as these feeding the fire?

Mitigating the Risk

Consumer desire vs. consumer need is the first challenge to mitigate. With crowdsourcing research panels consisting predominantly of strangers rather than experts, while they can complete tasks and solve problems to the best of their abilities, they do not have the skills to take advantage of each research opportunity as expert perspectives do. Although this often leads to new ideas that otherwise would not have been found, it takes a while for these ideas to surface as fully-dependable insights most of the time.

It will help immensely with this problem to allow professionals to either moderate the discussions going on or hire professionals to match the mix of participants. The most widely used approach to this problem is balance, which helps us to analyze any suggestions and observations that trigger discussion. Testing to see whether the answer is critically considered across the board (hard to think if this invention is brought to life with customers who all have their own lives) so that all proposals are regarded with equal weight as conversations take place will help with this question. While moderation is mostly used to solve this problem, there are studies to indicate that experimenting with the use of experts as participants may support crowdsourced initiatives, even if they need further research on that specific subject.

To help keep participants on track with discussions, frequent moderation can also be very helpful; derailments are a waste of time and resources in research, but are a common occurrence, particularly in collaborative research tasks. Constant moderation when working on tasks or talking amongst each other is a mammoth unenviable task for crowdsourced research groups, but it will be worth the effort put in when the creative ideas begin to flow under the watchful eye of insight practitioners in both in and out of research tasks. With balance, one thing you need to be careful of is not to stifle any imagination in the discussions taking place. It is difficult for spontaneous discussions to take place, with too static frameworks in place, and therefore spontaneous creative ideas to emerge.

But even though some creative ideas are created by crowdsourced research, it is widely understood that you can't satisfy everybody-a feeling that people-pleasers would gladly refute if it didn't mean they would disagree with you! It is, however, a fact that we meet as individuals and as insight practitioners on a regular basis, with participant conversations seldom 100 percent agreeing with each other and the knowledge reflecting that.

It's only normal that we have opposing views, but that makes it impossible for us to innovate efficiently when customers change their minds, or when new members disagree with others who have come before them, the crowdsourced panel develops, muddying the water and rendering others precious observations that are impossible to see clearly. Working with the majority to deliver useful insights works much of the time, but in this situation, the need for continuous agile testing is high and will help us determine whether it is worth the time to pursue an creative insight.

The problem of intellectual property and data security is the last topic to be addressed here. If, with the input of customers, these creative concepts, prototypes, products and services are made, who is entitled to the results? The laws and contracts of jobs do not control these crowds, they work openly on behalf of themselves rather than the business benefiting from this analysis. Another intellectual property challenge is how can we realize that the ideas being put forward are original and not stolen from another forum and organization seeking to accomplish the same thing?

There are a few ways in which scientists and researchers deal with this problem with some forethought and extra planning: the first is to establish the terms and conditions to represent the organization's needs and help them gain some influence over the content consumers produce while also recognizing their contribution through equal acknowledgement (it was argued in this study that


There are a variety of specific obstacles in crowdsourcing innovation that insight practitioners must resolve, or at least be conscious of, when entering into this dynamic partnership. It's a lot of work, but when done in the right way, there are a multitude of advantages to it; looking at success stories such as Apple, Lego, and Dell, helps one to grasp, first of all, how it can be accomplished on a long-term basis, and the implications on the companies that use this tricky approach.