Every day I am lucky enough to see organisations tap into the brilliant minds of people inside and outside their networks to solve the world’s most pressing problems. From preventing the spread of malaria, to identifying new and sustainable way to power societies, we witness ideas coming from the most unlikely places, giving us confidence that the collective experience, intelligence, and perseverance of humanity is enough to overcome the most complex challenges.
But for every two companies we see who incorporate the crowdsourcing of ideas, insights, and experience of into their day-to-day innovation process, we see another decide that crowdsourced innovation doesn’t play a role in their immediate future. Whether they haven’t yet found a multi-million-pound solution, priorities have shifted, or personalities have changed, repeatedly we see organisations start and stop their collaboration with a network of problem solvers, calling into question why they even started the process at all.
Although this might not seem harmful at first, given there’s rarely a shortage of good ideas circulating any organisation at any one time, it’s worth reflecting on the impact of getting stuck in a stop-start routine, what we call Innovation Events.
I’ll start by highlighting that the typical starting point for organisations engaging in crowdsourced innovation is running a one-off campaign or ‘Challenge’ to capture ideas. These take place to address an immediate, tangible pain point, such as a need to identify new products and services, or to find a solution to a problem which an organisation hasn’t been able to solve internally.
During these campaigns or Challenge-posting periods, ideas are visible and GO/NO-GO decisions widely shared, but once the Challenge ends, both rejected and selected can easily disappear into a black hole, preventing the future organisation from accessing existing or new solutions to a new problem, or learning from lessons identified. The newly activated crowds with the skills to identify the solution to today’s, or tomorrow’s, problems, return speaking to a line manager, or jotting down an idea on a post-it, and the organisation ends up back at square one.
But it isn’t just the ideas that disappear from the organisation’s memory; the processes for taking ideas to impact, what we think of as innovating, also gets lost in the ether. This much needed competency for creating new forms of value is disregarded, and with it, opportunities for future success lost. Moreover, when inclusive and transparent ways of capturing ideas disappear, a very clear message is sent to employees: ‘We do not value your ideas’. The repercussions of this don’t just affect morale, they can be a decisive factor on whether to remain at the organisation
In ‘5 Ways to ruin your Innovation Process’ Rita Gunther McGarth reminds us that ‘on-again, off again innovation is worse than nothing’ as it sends a signal the development of an idea is not a project that people should risk their careers on. I would go further to say that the absence of a systematic process not only deters the engagement of hopeful innovators, but it also creates a significant drain on capitol which could be so easily avoided. This isn’t to say that developing core innovation capabilities isn’t without difficulties, but there is no shortage of knowledge about how to make innovation more reliable and less fraught.
To end on a positive note, there are an increasing number of organisations thinking long-term and investing in building repeatable processes to manage innovation. It is these organisations that come out on-top and do more than pay lip service to the ‘innovation’ tagline featured front and centre on their website. They also remind us that innovating needn’t be impossible and can be, dare I say it, quite fun.