Innovation as a process: Why crowdsourcing ideas isn’t enough

July 17, 2018

Crowdsourcing isn’t new as an innovation technique. We can find large-scale examples of it going as far back as the 1700s, like when the British government offered more than $26,000 to whoever could figure out how to determine longitude at sea. It’s the way we go about crowdsourcing that has changed in recent years.

The web makes it easy to connect with specific groups of people to solicit innovation opportunities for enterprises. It’s an exciting concept that pervades so much of what we do –  e.g., the open-source culture in application development, the sharing economy, and so on. Everywhere you look, someone’s trying to capitalize on the resources of the masses, and for good reason.

And yet, without careful curation, crowds can generate a lot of white noise. Because they are loosely organized, crowds can also be unpredictable and unwieldy. Experienced technology scouts know this, as do the most successful R&D firms. They understand that if you want to achieve something important, you need to work at it systematically and methodically. Crowdsourcing ideas can be a useful component of an innovation program. But it must be complemented with dedicated technology-scouting and incubation efforts.

The open innovation landscape: A different kind of crowd

Hundreds of thousands of patents are filed every year. Tens of thousands of SEC reports are filed every quarter. Hundreds of scientific research papers are published every day. Hundreds of new startups were incorporated within the past 24 hours. All of this is the output of smart, talented individuals and who have dedicated their professional and personal lives to solving specific problems in new and innovative ways. We are surrounded by a wealth of external ideas, expertise, and intellectual property - all begging to be leveraged more thoroughly.

Sure, an off-duty engineer might have industry-altering ideas. And yes, crowdsourcing certainly has its place in technology scouting. But just as an MLB scout is more likely to find the next big talent outperforming peers on a baseball field, a technology scout will have better luck discovering innovation among the individuals and organizations at the top of their fields.

Innovation management is about improving the probability that you will discover ideas and intellectual property pertinent to your industry before your competitors. If you’re not judicious, expanding your pool of data by relying too heavily on crowdsourcing can dilute your innovation inventory with nonessential information. It also creates the expectation that innovation will come to you, when in reality, you have to go to it.

Innovation rarely happens behind closed doors; it’s a highly collaborative endeavor. But if you want to thrive in the age of open innovation, you’ll need more than just the wisdom of the crowd. You’ll also need the wisdom of researchers, patent filers, startups, grant recipients and universities.

This is all to say, innovation, like any other process in the digital age, accelerates best with access to the right sets of information, and it culminates in the ability to use those knowledge assets to develop a reliable, systematic workflow.

Assembling enterprise innovations

The first step in facilitating innovation as a process is to extract ideas, intellectual property, and other intangible assets from the wealth of publicly available data. This will require advanced analytics tools and techniques, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, to contextualize knowledge assets as the ingredients for a potential innovation opportunity. It will also require a project management function to curates relevant information among various innovation initiatives.  

The second step is developing a streamlined methodology for sifting through that information, and scoring it based on the value-add potential to your enterprise’s innovation department. For example, what is the present and future commercial viability of the idea or technology in question? Is there an existing market demand? Is there a future market demand? Have any competitors already made progress with this information? Failure to answer these questions accurately could lead to time waste, or worse, missed opportunities that could put your enterprise behind the innovation curve.

The third step is to begin assembling these knowledge assets into real innovation proposals. Consequently, your collection of relevant ideas, intellectual property, and other intangibles begin to take shape into a true innovation opportunity.  

Finally, you can evaluate those innovation opportunities and invest accordingly, based on their value-add potential.

This is admittedly a high-level framework for innovation as a process. Every enterprise is different and will have unique requirements as it mines for useful knowledge assets and attempts to assemble its findings into a viable innovation opportunity.

What’s important is that the processes you build need to be meticulous and thorough enough that opportunities won’t fall through the cracks, while also repeatable and predictable enough to be managed cost-effectively. Crowdsourcing, while part of the answer, cannot deliver both of these in one package.

Innovation management software, designed specially for technology scouts, can help. Learn more here.




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