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There are four ways to crowdsource answers to your innovation challenges: garden variety crowdsourcing, distant expert sourcing, expert targeting, and force multiplying.

They vary based on the relative expertise that one is seeking in a respondent as well as the target for novelty (something new and totally unexpected vs seeking a prescribed solution).

All of this language comes from research by Dr. Zoe Szajnfarber, Associate Professor at The George Washington University. She was the most recent guest on the IdeaScale Nation podcast and talked about how almost all challenges can be answered by the crowd, provided the challenge architects know how to break that problem down into its prizable parts. For example, she discusses a project in which a robot had to complete a specific task (which is a pretty complex operation), but the innovation team broke down the challenge into seventeen separate parts – each which could be addressed in part by the crowd.

For me, the conversation yielded these new crowdsourcing terms and ideas, as well as a few other insights.

Safety Can Drive Innovation. Dr. Zoe Szajnfarber was headed off to her dream job to go build space robots, when the Columbia accident occurred. After that a process known as recertification verification started – the process of asking where things went wrong and why, an investigation into whether or not the system was operating the way it was supposed to. Instead of building robots, she addressed her attention to this question and how we can build safer systems with huge mechanisms like the government where each decision cascades and impacts others. This focus on safety and the importance of preserving life has driven a lot of creative enterprise over the years.

Plan for Life After the Challenge. Some people don’t know that the Netflix Prize didn’t get implemented for a variety of complex reasons. When planning for an innovation challenge, leaders need to think hard about the inherent problem as well as how much the solution space should be focused. The more focused, the more likely you can implement, but the creativity of the potential solutions might become more limited. It’s a balancing act between novelty and ease of implementation.

Let’s Rebrand Failure. When asked to discuss some innovation failures, Dr. Szajnfarber was quick to point out that failure was hardly an accurate term. Sometimes a solution wasn’t chosen, but the lessons learned along the way were still valuable. Sometimes a solution couldn’t be implemented, but this was still another lesson in scoping the work for a future challenge.

To learn more about how to create and run prizable crowdsourcing challenges, listen to the latest episode of IdeaScale Nation here.

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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