Do Innovators Love Crowds?

Sunday, 15 February 2015 17:04
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The worldwide web is enabling the growth of online service marketplaces that leverage the power of crowds to generate viable solutions for technical challenges. Crowd sourced contests, like most endeavors, have strengths and limitations.

Curious to learn more? Read on, dear friends...

Do Innovators Love Crowds?

Consider the following hypothetical scenario:

Digitas Health wants to attract fresh ideas to identify ways to prevent head injuries that can occur in high school and collegiate soccer games. The solutions they have considered to-date have merit, but don't represent a real breakthrough. Centinno can facilitate a crowd based online contest. It should yield a diverse solution set with limited financial exposure. Should Digitas sponsor such a challenge?

Roland Harwood is co founder of 100%Open
(, whose UK based consultancy facilitates crowd leveraged challenges. He feels that crowd sourcing can be an attractive vehicle to address innovation challenges, including those requiring close-in solution options. I found this last point somewhat surprising as I had previously assumed that the crowd would be better suited to provide creative ideas and proposals versus finished technical solutions. However, Roland assures me otherwise. He feels it is largely a matter of providing a precise brief, asking the right questions and then conducting proper and thorough due diligence to sort and evaluate the outputs.

Crowd sourced challenges share some commonalities. In many cases, the sponsoring company will pay only for solutions they adopt (plus what an intermediary/facilitator charges for its involvement). Customers see them as a way to access a broad potential solution set. Prospective crowd participants must decide for themselves their involvement, including how much effort they are willing to invest against an endeavor with an uncertain success probability. As one might expect, crowd motivation is an important element in challenge design.

Roland feels that the question of whether a particular need should be put up for a contest should be carefully considered by the client company. The client must first decide that the problem cannot be adequately addressed through traditional (internal and or external) means. Beyond this, the crowd composition and the motivation (whether financial, or societal or intellectual challenge) are integral to ensuring high contest participation rates.

As with any type of problem solving endeavor, the outputs from a crowd sourcing exercise must be sorted and ranked, as a starting point for solution vetting in a follow up exercise. As with other solution finding techniques, crowd sourced challenges cannot guarantee success. However, they do represent a viable means to generate new solution sets for problems where other approaches haven't produced desired outcomes. In my view, that should be reason enough to give them a try.

What has been your experience with challenge based services and service providers? What has worked well? What hasn't met your expectations and needs?

Since 2005, BFS Innovations has helped its Fortune 500 clients with technology scouting, new business creation and development services. Contact Michael today at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 614 937-2408 to discuss your company's needs. |

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