Leveraging External Talent for Crowdsourcing and Innovation


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How Leading Organizations Manage Their Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing Efforts

Although there are simple and cost effective ways to jumpstart your efforts – for example, leveraging a company like InnoCentive to host prize-based challenges in order to rapidly find solutions to your most pressing problems – leading organizations that wish to truly embrace open innovation and crowdsourcing do so through careful planning. When seeking to engage external talent, one of the first of many questions you must first ask yourself is: Why are we doing this? What do we hope that external talent can achieve for us that our internal talent cannot (or should not) achieve, and how do we integrate the two together?

The second question leading organizations in open innovation ask themselves is: Why will they care? And one good place to start in answering this difficult question is to ask: What kind of organization do you have? Do you have a product-driven organization like Microsoft that is very much organized around products? Do you have a customer-driven organization like Hallmark that is organized around customer moments instead of around products? Or do you have a purpose-driven organization? While it does not technically matter what kind of organization you have, the key is to find something that not just your employees will engage with, but that your customers and partners will engage with as well. This could be purpose, but it could also be love for a brand or a well-designed, emotionally-connected product.

Other questions to ask:

1. In our organization, where does open innovation fit in our overall innovation efforts?

2. How are we looking to connect?

3. Do we want to build our own proprietary global sensing network that allows us to pull together insights and ideas from lots of different types of sources in different locations?

4. Or, do we want to utilize external service providers like InnoCentive to get up and running faster or go wider than our own proprietary networks can go?

5. Are we looking for crowd labor or creativity, or are we looking to engage in open innovation or civic engagement in creating innovative solutions?

6. Are we looking for possible solutions to problems that we have already identified?

7. Are we looking with current and potential suppliers at the intersection of what is needed and what is possible?

8. Or, are we looking more broadly to identify new insights through which we can drive our innovation efforts?

Note that one must be careful not to become too focused on ideas. Great ideas fail all the time – poor value translation, poor value access, poor timing, and so on. Rather, getting to creative solutions to problems and challenges is key to innovation success.

Another important questions is: What tool is best for this problem? We have all heard the saying that if you have a hammer every problem looks like a nail. Well, when it comes to open innovation and crowdsourcing, there are lots of tools that we can use, but only if we first understand the nature of the work we are trying to get done. Is it a creative piece of work that we can put out to a community like 99Designs? Or do we just need someone to help us temporarily through a place like PeoplePerHour? Or, perhaps we are trying to solve problems, both big and small, and want to leverage a company like InnoCentive to create and tap into both internal and external communities of problem solvers to accelerate our innovation efforts.

Smart organizations identify the different work and challenge scenarios they expect to face over time and then identify which resourcing option(s) make the most sense for each scenario. They then work to form the relationships and agreements necessary with firms like InnoCentive to make sure that they will have reliable resources in place for when they seek to utilize a particular type of resource to tackle the matching challenge or work scenario.

Successful organizations have a plan for how they are going to interface with external resources and how they are going to bring ideas and potential solutions in house for further development and launch. What will the cultural obstacles be? You must consider what the potential cultural obstacles might be to engaging external talent in your organization. P&G had to work very hard to change of its culture from ‘Not Invented Here’ to one where people embrace new things being ‘Proudly Found Elsewhere’.

Some of the reasons that you may face resistance in implementing an external talent strategy include beliefs that career advancement comes from increasing the number of headcount managed, a fear of failure, a lack of management support, and people not wanting to go outside their comfort zones (‘I get paid to manage and make things incrementally better’). But when people start to hear stories about some of the successes, see some proof of the benefits, and see other people get recognized for utilizing external talent, acceptance of an external talent strategy starts to spread. And when senior leadership or middle management start talking about what is being done with external talent, and people using external talent start training their peers on what they are doing, you know people are starting to fully embrace your external talent strategy.

So what do leading organizations do to encourage the successful use of external talent?

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