James Gardner, the Chief Technology Officer of Spigit, recently reminded folks that there will always be reminders around us that even giants can fall: some of us will forever feel a small pang each time we pass a Blockbuster-turned-donut shop, its iconic, ticket-stub signage now stripped and faded – a relic.

What’s the solution? Tap into the crowd. James wrote about this in an article titled, How Do You Crowdsource Innovation?   Here is a portion:

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Like innovation itself, the crowd can be complex. The people who know your business best are the most well-placed to help you address the many kinds of questions and challenges that crop-up in the day-to-day running of a company — from outmoded business processes, to product and service improvements, and customer experience. This often means not just employees but others in your company ecosystem like customers and business partners. Research shows that crowdsourcing innovation can produce up to 65% more actionable ideas than traditional sources. Analysts at Gartner predict that within the next three years, over 75% of high-performing enterprises will be using some type of crowdsourcing to improve business processes.

Here are three critical guidelines for effective crowdsourced innovation:

Trust your crowd. If deferring to subject matter experts was the answer to your problems, there wouldn’t be a reason to reach out to your crowd to begin with. But the crowd is powerful because of the countless perspectives and experiences of the people within it. Do not make the mistake of imagining that the crowd is somehow inferior to experts or leadership. It is not.

Polaris Industries, a manufacturer of ATVs and other unique vehicles, learned this lesson quickly. The company’s innovation program was traditional and entirely top-down when it began. It was exceptionally difficult for Polaris to discover great ideas, and even when they did, the process to develop them was painfully slow. Polaris had no way to predict the risk, value, or viability for an idea, which made it hard to secure executive sponsorship and budget for innovation projects. But when it turned to the crowd, Polaris achieved an 80 percent reduction in the time it took to discover, assess, and execute new ideas. The outcome was their revolutionary Slingshot motorcycle and three other bestselling vehicles. Turning to its crowd also changed Polaris’ R&D process and reduced time to market dramatically – a distinct competitive advantage in a cramped vehicle market.

Close the loop. You will be asking a lot of big questions, especially if your company is facing major challenges. When you get feedback, remember to do something with it.

One company closing the loop successfully is Pfizer, Inc. Pfizer is a pillar within the pharmaceuticals market, comprising 77,000 healthcare experts, researchers, doctors, scientists, nurses, pharmacists, manufacturers, and more. This hugely diverse ‘crowd’ is directly responsible for Pfizer’s dominant position in the healthcare sector. But it can also sometimes hinder innovation efforts, since it is often difficult for experts to think outside of established patterns and processes. When Pfizer turned to crowdsourcing, everything changed. Their first innovation challenge to identify and select ideas from a crowd of employees, customers, and/or partners had nearly 6,000 participants and resulted in 660 viable ideas. It also led to a massive jump in employee engagement — 330% more people submitting and voting on ideas than the company originally targeted. The lesson? People want to share their ideas, but you have to give them the right space to do it. Pfizer’s OWNIT! innovation program encourages all employees to consistently contribute ideas and make a positive impact on the business. New ideas are met with openness and careful consideration, rather than doubt or apathy, which promotes an innovative culture free of silos and ripe with engagement. The first time Pfizer turned to the crowd to drive innovation, they had nearly 6,000 participants, 650+ viable ideas, and a massive jump in employee engagement — 330% of their original goal — based just on participant interaction with ideas.

Face the music. It can be tempting for company leaders to seek out validation rather than innovation. Your crowd will give you the sometimes hard and uncomfortable truth; but just cherry-picking the palatable results will only move you incrementally forward, if not backward. Listening to what your crowd is actually saying (even if you aren’t getting the answers you expected) is critical.

Cambia Health Solutions, a healthcare organization serving 100 million consumers across the United States, understands how important this is. In an industry inundated with red tape and slow to change, it was daunting to engage a wide variety of employees in a meaningful, valuable way. But a recent challenge run by Cambia resulted in 144 viable ideas for new products and services. Over eight weeks, Cambia created a prototype product based on the leading ideas.

The Crowdsourcing Journey

What we must do as leaders is encourage exploration. We must be willing to accept that we are not always asking the right questions. We may not have the whole story because it has not been told yet. And the people who are helping us shape that story are perhaps the most important part of it. Above all, we must remember that continuous learning — and questioning, and adapting, and yes, failing — is an inherent part of innovating successfully.

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