How can companies engage employees and truly generate collaborative innovation though the effective use of crowdsourcing?
I was brainstorming with Eric Folger (a brillant Design Thinker) and we started to talk about crowdsourcing and whether it provides truly generate collaborative innovation.
We know crowdsourcing among employees works well when a few things are addressed. Firstly, leadership is active and continually drives collaborative participation among its employees. Secondly there is regular communication around the outcomes of ideas submitted and finally there is a reward system to motivate employees.
However, the most important element around crowdsourcing that sometimes is often missed: establishing a clear focus or having a framed business problem to curate and engage employees with.
There are two board types of business problems:
- One that is mechanical or linear problem that require a logical response
- One that is more wicked in nature and has no one clear solution.
Logical problems are often straightforward and typically require an “answer” to the problem. For example, discovering solutions to an internal business process issue such as lowering average handling times in a call center. These challenges really say if I do “A”, than the next obvious step is “B” which leads to an obvious “C” and so on. Which may pair of into B.1 or C.2 etc. but essentially it is a linear process.
Wicked problems on the other are more complicated and really don’t have one solution. They tend to be difficult to solve. An example would be something like how can we get 75% of the Australian population who currently do not seek financial advice to seek advice?
Most crowdsourcing platforms such as Spigit plalform
– which are used by some companies addresses the first type of problems. It is very much a linear process. When posed with a question, staff will typically post the most logical answer/idea that is known to them. We also know that “linear” type problems generate more “linear” type ideas, which are by nature, less “innovative”. So for Linear type problems; crowdsourcing works fine.
The issue is that a lot of business problems are not “linear” there are more “wicked” in nature. There are more ambiguous and are impacted by so many things and require all sorts of specified knowledge to answer.
The question therefore is: how could use crowdsourcing framework to tackle more “wicked” problems and generate truly innovative ideas? How can you get people to have an informed opinion on a real ambiguous problem and collaborate on it?
Before we explore this question, lets consider the universe of wicked or ambiguous problems is made up of:
- Culture – how the way things are done
- Industries – how other markets or communities do things
- Social construct – how we interact with things, which are constructed by society. Something is a certain way because people agree to treat it or act that way. For example, in call centres, one construct is – you can contact me only by phoning me and when you do, you will get a random person each time and that person will not necessarily know what you said to the last person. Another construct is you are guaranteed the same person every time we meet in a private room and have an agreed time to talk and discuss things.
- Dialogue – which all about talk about the problem, exploring the dimensions of it.
For example, back to the 75% of the Australian population are unadvised problem. If you had this as challenge to crowdsource, people are going to use their own logic and post their ideal solution rather than talk about that really matters or driving the problem:
Most corporates have built a framework where you either post 100% idea up or are shot down. That is, if you just put 20% of an idea – hoping to get crowd to build onto it, the crowd would not understand it and will not get supported and it does not progress.
How might we build effective dialogue within a crowdsourcing framework that can generate truly innovative ideas that matter to customers? What do crowds need to foster effective dialogue?
Truly innovative ideas address “what matters” to customers require:
- Effective dialogue
- Iteration of dialogue
- Same time and space
If we know in an offline world, people tend to generate truly innovative ideas through effective dialogue and iteration process. Where no single person has the complete idea but rather smaller golden nuggets of half baked ideas that merge and formed to get to bigger more complete idea.
For instance, can we use something as simple as live chat where up to 4 people at a pre-determined time work on a problem space for 20 minutes. We give them a prompt (i.e. question) and let the group form ideas, build on each other and merge them into 100% or 80% of the idea before submitting it to a wider crowd?
An online chat/dialogue removes “influences” or “strongest personality” issues (often seen within workshop environment). With online chat no one owns the conversation but anyone can throw in his or her opinion at the same time equally. If no one is online, people are asked to ‘rate’ other ideas left before while they wait for someone else to join.
Current framwork for crowdsourcing ideas from staff typically see 100% of the idea being posted with not much building from the crowd happening. If you post 10% of an idea is posted (hoping the crowd build onto it), the crowd deems it as a “thought” (rather an idea) and are not generally supported.
Truly innovative ideas need to be nurtured amongst smaller crowds to really understand and explore what “could matter” to the customer. This is done by effective dialogue between people (up to 4 else it becomes unmanageable). Each building on others raw idea. Once the idea reachs 80% or 90%, this is the time to post it for the wider crowdsouce community.
If we want to generate truly innovative ideas that are of cognitive (i.e. complex) or “what could be” in nature, we need few things to happen:
- Need to frame it right
- Need to have a dialogue
- Iteration of dialogue
- Same time and space for dialogue
Innovative ideas will merge and these innovative ideas can be posted to a wider crowdsource community to be validated getting truly collaborative innovation through crowdsourcing.