The increasing bargaining power of the consumer enabled the concept of crowdsourcing communities to grow substantially in the past years. The power to the people has resulted not only in a lot of success for companies like Facebook, which is a crowdsourcing community in the form of an open source platform. Also, firms like Netflix and Starbucks seem to profit heavily by listening to the ideas of loyal customers. However, in the latter case this payoff only lasts for a short time due to the fact that ideators are doomed to repeat their success idea, which results in a decline of creativity.
Skeptics would wonder if these communities are a valid solution for the ongoing innovation problems companies are dealing with nowadays. Like Henry Ford said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. Isn’t the consumer an ignorant man that is just there to buy our products? The answer is no. Crowdsourcing, and in particular crowdsourcing communities, enables companies to stay in direct contact with their consumers, to gain better and cheaper information and consequently to become a great innovator (Bayus, 2013). The question here is not whether crowdsourcing is a good thing (because it is). The question is how to ensure that people will participate and more importantly, how to ensure that these people stay connected to the community over time.
Ideally, companies receive a continuous stream of quality ideas that will keep them competitive. Bayus (2013) acknowledged this issue by primarily focusing on the idea generator rather than the idea itself. By assessing the dynamics the Dell Ideastorm Community, a ‘typical’ idea submission platform, it appeared that the majority of the ideas came from one-time-only ideators, which is validated by Bockstedt et al. (2016). However, if the focus is on successful, actual implemented, ideas, it appeared that the serial ideators were in the vast majority.
The importance of the fact that these serial ideators should be interacting more with the company lies in the fact that their subsequent ideas tend to be less innovative and creative (Bayus, 2013). Given that a submission is popular and therefore implemented, ideators get the assumption that this is the right way to generate ideas and therefore it is unlikely that they will deviate from their path. This ‘cognitive fixation’ has a negative influence on the most talented idea generators, which is a shame for both parties.
Luckily Bayus (2013) provided us with a silver bullet by analyzing the community Dell has created. It appeared that this negative effect on the talented ideators practically disappeared when people got the opportunity to review and criticize ideas from others as well, which emphasizes the importance of communities. The higher the diversity of the ideas people are dealing with, the lower the effect of cognitive fixation is. It is acknowledgeable that this is the way to keep the most creative and promising ideators loyal, diverse and motivated, which consequently will lead to greater innovations!
I am not saying that ideators repeatedly should fire any idea whenever they want. I am saying that the firms should adopt successful ideators in a cooperative manner. This study showed that a diverse set of “out-of-the-box” ideas, if managed correctly (Alexy et al., 2012), is of great importance for companies that aspire to be our new pioneers of innovation. Now the only way to properly manage innovations is to bring them in-house and this is something that companies also should consider when it comes to their best ideators.
Alexy, O., Criscuolo, P., & Salter, A. (2012). Managing unsolicited ideas for R&D. California Management Review, 54(3), 116-139.
Barry L. Bayus, (2013) Crowdsourcing New Product Ideas over Time: An Analysis of the Dell IdeaStorm Community. Management Science 59(1):226-244.
Bockstedt, J., Druehl, C. and Mishra, A. (2016). Heterogeneous Submission Behavior and its Implications for Success in Innovation Contests with Public Submissions. Production and Operations Management, 25(7), pp.1157-1176.