More Organizations Are ‘Crowdsourcing’ Product Ideas from Employees

More Organizations Are ‘Crowdsourcing’ Product Ideas from Employees

One major consequence of our increasingly digital society and economy is that the next great business idea really can come from anywhere. Companies are increasingly taking this lesson to heart and looking for ways to solicit ideas from their entire community of employees, not just those formally dedicated to the development of new business. Last week, Digiday’s Max Willens took note of this trend in the media, observing the innovative techniques publishers are using to generate product ideas, such as a “Shark Tank”-style competition Politico tried out last summer:

Politico joins other publishers that are turning to their own employees to develop new revenue ideas. Before it was acquired by Meredith last fall, Time Inc. ran a similar internal competition that attracted nearly 60 submissions from employees. The Globe and Mail in Toronto and New York Daily News have run their own accelerator programs for years. Those programs have resulted in The Globe and Mail’s Workplace Awards, a profitable award and events program, and an ad-viewability tool at the Daily News.

Finding new sources of revenue has become a top priority for publishers everywhere. But in these cases, the goal is also to instill entrepreneurial thinking in a mature industry.

This concept is being tried in many industries, not just publishing. In our recent and ongoing research at CEB, now Gartner, we’ve seen many organizations turning to their employees through these types of ideation programs—some of which are much more effective than others. As you might imagine, inviting entire workforces to generate ideas can result in a certain amount of idea or information overload. The more interesting solutions we’ve seen guide employees to focus on and share the most helpful kinds of ideas, creating a sort of self-filtering mechanism.

IBM, for example, requires teams interested in participating in crowdsourcing to attend training on complex digital solutions to improve the feasibility and relevance of their ideas. Prior to these trainings, teams were developing concepts for applying digital solutions like cognitive computing based on limited knowledge of these solutions, which hindered the applicability of their ideas. In addition to the trainings, they also give employees guidelines for their idea generation, asking them to filter their ideas for feasibility, business impact, timeline (Can it be done in a year?), scalability, and complexity.

They also take employee involvement a step beyond ideation, involving employees in the evaluation of these ideas. To do that, IBM simulates an equity investment market where all employees can act as investors who fund ideas with virtual money. This allows the workforce to play a pivotal role in the prioritization of idea submissions and remain engaged throughout the crowdsourcing process.

(CEB Shared Services Leadership Council members can read our IBM case study here.)