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How to Ensure Crowdsourcing Works for Product Innovation

By: Rob Hoehn

Many enterprise organizations use crowdsourcing to find ideas in their blind spots – but how do you launch your first crowdsourcing challenge, and what sorts of questions do you ask? IdeaScale Crowd is hosting a webinar for first-time crowdsourcing innovators who want to engage a large group of collaborators in solving their problems.

At over a million members, Lego has created an avid, engaged fan base that is helping them to co-create their products. The Lego Group achieved nearly $6B of revenue in 2020 and is consistently ranked as one of the Top 10 most highly-regarded companies in the world when it comes to corporate reputation. Their product team is huge, but when you count their fan base it’s even bigger than you think.

Anybody can share an idea for a Lego product or set, and others vote on that idea. If the idea generates at least 10k votes in one year, then it is guaranteed review by the Lego Review Board. If the suggestion does get produced, then the idea author receives 1% of the global sales – but the benefits don’t stop there. Not only does Lego receive new ideas while the winners receive benefits, but everyone feels that they are part of a listening and creative brand experience.

The idea itself sounds simple: reach out to the public, find out what they want you to build, and then build it. But the reality is that Lego put in a lot of thought and strategy to build a thriving online product innovation community that has produced some of the most beloved Lego products of all time. If you want to launch your own crowdsourcing campaign, what do you need to decide ahead of time? Answer the following questions to get a start.

What is the Criteria for a Promising Idea?

Lego has set its threshold high: 10,000 votes in a year. But there are plenty of other criteria that a company could use: does it align with certain organizational values? Are there specific technological, legal, or packaging restrictions that would restrict certain ideas from reaching implementation? A good way to identify meaningful criteria is to interview decision makers about what they’re looking for and understand how they make their decisions – and build those questions into the idea gathering process to make the criteria clear.

What is the Goal?

People are more motivated to participate if they know that there is a goal in mind. Sometimes simply providing a deadline can create this urgency, but more often knowing what you’re working on will give them inspiration: is it a new product line? A pitch to a new business? A partnership opportunity? If you have a goal, be sure to state it.

What Inspires You?

Think about the product that you’re trying to improve or innovate. Where is there room for change: the way it is used? The typical environment in which you find it? Its features and functions? Its look? How it’s packaged? It might be helpful to present some of these ideas to others or even innovations in adjacent spaces to get the creative juices flowing.

What is the Incentive?

Lego not only offers a 1% share of sales, but it also offers a lot of value by creating a vibrant community that is in regular communication with customers. Other crowdsourcing initiatives offer non-monetary rewards: recognition and credit on the project, mentoring or career growth opportunities, and sometimes exciting experiential rewards like the ability to pitch the idea to the CEO or the ability to attend exclusive launch events. You don’t always need to include financial rewards, but it is absolutely imperative that you create a vibrant online experience that demonstrates that you’re interested and that you care about the ideas that are shared. That is its own reward.

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.

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