So crowdsourcing works: Now what?

crowd in streetThe practice of “open innovation” or “crowdsourcing” – reaching beyond your company walls into your extended ecosystem of partners and customers to generate new and innovative product ideas – has flourished with the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies.

Utilities like Facebook, Innovation Exchange, InnoCentive and LinkedIn (among others) have made it easy to capture the “wisdom of the crowd.”

The past few years have witnessed myriad successes from crowdsourcing initiatives, including:

  • Pepsi successfully conducted a crowdsourcing initiative in 2007 to design a new Pepsi can. www.designourpepsican.com
  • Netflix has an ongoing crowdsourcing initiative called Netflix Prize for the best collaborative filtering algorithm that predicts user ratings for films. www.netflixprize.com
  • P&G maintains a dedicated online community called “Connect & Develop” to manage its open innovation efforts.  To date, P&G’s Connect + Develop strategy already has resulted in more than 1,000 active agreements.  And more than 50 percent of product initiatives at Procter & Gamble involve significant collaboration with outside innovators.   P&G Connect & Develop

Now that we have figured out how to tap the “wisdom of the crowd,” what’s next?

For consumer products companies, the challenge now is to connect these upstream crowdsourcing systems with downstream product design, simulation, manufacturing and market execution systems.  After all, what’s the value of all those innovative ideas from your crowd if they ultimately don’t help you win in market?  Or if you can’t manufacture them?

In my role as a product strategist for Dassault Systèmes, I am helping consumer products companies meet this challenge by integrating previously-disconnected “downstream” product design and execution tools with upstream Web 2.0-style crowdsourcing tools to form a holistic Social Innovation solution.

This includes a lifelike design mashup tool for rapid prototyping and a lifelike virtual shopping tool that simulates consumer interaction with concept products in retail environments without having to develop expensive, physical prototypes.

As a result, consumer products companies can now quickly and easily weed out ideas that either won’t win with consumers at the shelf, or can’t be easily manufactured before they get into the later, more cost-intensive stages of the new product development process.  This ensures precious time and energy are focused on developing winning ideas.

Further, by providing a seamless solution that tracks a product from “crowdsourced” idea all the way through market launch and retirement, we can feed actual performance metrics from in-market products back into the front end of innovation to continually refine your idea pipeline and focus your crowdsourcing efforts on winning ideas.

We all know that it’s not good enough to simply innovate faster than your competition; we need to innovate better and smarter as well.

What are your ideas for better connecting upstream crowdsourcing activity with downstream product design and execution?

Virtually,

Vincent

  • Very interesting article Vincent!
    The closer we get to creating a realistic (3D) environments on the web to test products, the easier it is allow customers to try products “before they buy”, and give producers insight into customers needs. It’s a win-win situation.

  • Dave

    Vincent,

    I’m wondering how the intellectual property is protected in such a situation. If I provide a new idea to Company A, does that mean the idea is now in the public domain and unable to patent? Or, if I’ve got a patent on an idea, can I ‘crowdsource it’ w/o fear Company A will consider my submission their property (as stored on their crowdsourcing site)? I think these issues are causing companies to stall on the realization of your vision. Comments?

    -Dave

  • Vincent

    Thanks for the comments Cliff and Dave. You raise an astute point on the topic of IP protection Dave. I encourage anyone participating in a crowdsourcing initiative (sponsor and responder) to understand their legal rights prior to initiating a campaign or submitting any content. I am not an IP attorney (if there are any reading this we’d love to hear your opinion), but in my experience participating in crowdsourcing initiatives the sponsors of such events are very careful to explicitly state the legal rights of all parties involved and often force participants to acknowledge their rights prior to gaining access (i.e. during the registration process). In practice, I can tell you that concern over IP protection has not deterred individuals from contributing ideas, nor sponsoring companies from pursuing and commercializing them – as witnessed by the examples I provided above. A fellow Carnegie Mellon alum saw my post and just sent me a note indicating that crowdsourcing is literally building his rapidly growing $100 million technology company!

    Best,
    Vince