One of the biggest challenges of running a successful business in this day and age is the constant need to innovate. In this economy, if you’re not swimming, you’re sinking, and it’s vitally important to continue improving your products and offerings. It’s not enough to be ahead, one has to keep striving for improvement long after leaving competitors in the dust. The alternative is stagnation and eventual relegation to the internet company graveyard, joining such illustrious company as AskJeeves, Myspace, and Pets.com.
But there is hope! Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re already a convert to the idea that the crowd is an excellent resource. Obviously, we at Mila think so: the crowd is our business model. We already make great use of the crowd: why not apply that approach to innovation? Here, we’ll go over a few ways that you can use crowdsourcing to boost innovation.
This probably comes as no surprise: the simplest way is to initiate a contest on social media. These contests usually follow a pretty standard script:
- Company identifies a problem and offers a prize for the best submitted solution
- The crowd submits their ideas to solve the problem
- Company picks the best suggestion and awards the prize
This has the added benefit of allowing your company to review all of the proposed solutions in addition to the winning one. Don’t waste a good idea simply because it’s not the absolute best one you received!
Contests have the advantage of providing free-form responses: chances are you’ll get some proposed solutions to your problem that your company would have never thought of in a million years. Crowds truly do think outside the box. For this reason, contests are the best for problems that you aren’t quite sure how to solve.
Mila itself has made great use of contests. We decided on a collaboration with our partner, Swiss electronics company BRACK.CH. We asked our Mila Crowd which service packages our partner BRACK.CH should offer their customers. Our crowd of electronics experts came up with ideas for service packages, and the best of these will be integrated into BRACK.CH’s offerings. Winning ideas got a voucher in the online store as a reward.
Another way to source the wisdom of the crowd is to aggregate the sum of their skills. Remember those contests at carnivals and fairs where people would attempt to guess the number of jelly beans in a large jar (or the weight of a pig, or any number of other things).
Did you know that it has been proven that the wisdom of the crowd is usually better than any one guess? It turns out that if you take all of the guesses and plot them out, the median guess is usually better than most of the individual guesses.
Just look at Wikipedia. Though it’s now so established that we hardly think about it, Wikipedia is perhaps the ultimate example of wisdom of the crowd. It aggregates knowledge from everybody, so that each person can contribute according to their personal area of expertise, resulting in a combination of only the best parts of everyone’s knowledge. Wikipedia has been shown to be as accurate as more “official” encyclopedias.
Another way to leverage crowd expertise and experience to drive innovation is to make them your actual product. In business models like Freelancer.com and oDesk, the company’s whole job is to match a service provider with someone who needs their service. In this way, the company saves on overhead and obligation, instead leveraging the skills of independent contractors to fulfill their business model.
Staying competitive means making use of every possible advantage available to your company. The crowd can be a vital resource for this. Leveraged correctly, the crowd represents a genuine expansion of competency for internet companies, with real possibilities for solving sticky problems.