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Ideas for Leaders #296

Crowdsourcing New Product Ideas Over Time

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Key Concept

Is your organization thinking of using online crowdsourcing applications to collect ideas for new products and services? If yes, it is not the only one; a number of large companies have been turning to crowdsourcing in recent years, including the technology corporation Dell. Read on to find out what an analysis of their application can tell you about how to use crowdsourcing in your own organization.

Idea Summary

Crowdsourcing is an expression that describes the act of taking a task once performed by an internal employee or team, and outsourcing it to a large, undefined group of people external to the company. With the need for innovation being a top priority for businesses today, many have turned to crowdsourcing in an attempt to ensure a continual stream of fresh ideas.

In particular, online crowdsourcing systems have become popular with a number of companies in recent years; take the example coffee company Starbucks, which engages consumers on their ‘My Starbucks Idea’ website. Similarly, computer technology company Dell created ‘IdeaStorm’, a web-based crowdsourcing community where individuals generate ideas repeatedly over time. IdeaStorm started out as a sort of online suggestion box collecting ideas since 2007, and formed the basis of a 2013 paper by Kenan-Flager Business School’s Barry Bayus.

Individuals become a part of the IdeaStorm community at no cost, and do not have to be a Dell customer to join. Ideastorm members can propose ideas as well as comment and vote on the ideas of others, and like most crowdsourcing applications information on demographics and personal characteristics are not collected. Submitted ideas have ranged from “have Michael Dell in the Dell commercials” to “buy Lenovo!”

Analyzing two years of daily IdeaStorm data, Bayus found that when individuals experienced success in proposing an implemented idea, their subsequent ideas were likely to be less successful and less diverse. In other words, when individuals with past success attempt to come up with more ideas that will excite Dell, they instead end up proposing less diverse ideas that are similar to their ideas that were already implemented.

The attraction of using consumers that have that have the best knowledge of their own problems with existing products has meant that many companies have rushed to develop and implement crowdsourcing communities. However, as it has not been in existence for relatively long, little research exists on its value over time. This research helps to shed some light in this context.

Business Application

The challenge for companies thinking of starting crowdsourcing communities is to ensure they get members to engage and participate, and not end up sitting on the fence. Moreover, being able to recruit new participants and encouraging them to submit ideas is equally important, as this research suggests that good ideas will not continue to come from people who have already contributed a winning idea.

One way to break this tendency for members to become fixated on the same type of ideas is to encourage commenting activity on diverse ideas proposed by other members. In fact, according to Bayus, simply instructing participants not to focus on prior submissions may be sufficient enough to do so and stimulate their creativity.

Taking Dell’s example, Bayus also notes that it recently introduced ‘Storm Sessions’ to the IdeaStorm community, where members can participate in hyper-focused idea-generation brainstorming sessions. These focus on specific topics and last for relatively short amounts of time. Such initiatives may also have the potential to reduce fixation effects by encouraging members’ attention to be shifted away from their own previously implemented ideas.

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Idea conceived

  • January 2012

Idea posted

  • January 2014

DOI number



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