Social media channels have enabled organizations such as Dell, Starbucks, and NASA to successfully reach out to external contributors to collect suggestions, which have in turn stimulated innovation. This research, however, shows that most initiatives to source external contributions fail and that organizations seeking external ideas need to proceed with care and establish proactive processes to avoid potential pitfalls.
Crowdsourcing and social media channels have largely replaced the private channels between a lone individual and an organization with a public debate in which external contributors not only submit suggestions but also vote for and comment on suggestions made by others. In the best cases, these interactions evolve into a vibrant initiative, granting the host organization a rare and valuable window into external contributors’ ideas and needs.
The potential benefit of sourcing suggestions from – customers, business partners, inventors, academics and other external networks – is self-evident and can result in more effective problem identification, problem solving and innovation. So it is important for organizations to determine how they can access open innovation in a cost effective way. The trouble, as researchers at ESMT and Stanford discovered, is that most initiatives to engage external contributors fail.
Prior to the ESMT/Stanford research, there was no empirical research into the success rate of efforts to involve external contributors, nor into what organizations can do to maximize their chances of success, nor into why some organizations are more successful in eliciting suggestions than others. Compounding the problem is that by focusing on the high-profile successful initiatives and ignoring the negative impact on the average firm an over-optimistic false prospectus has emerged.
ESMT and Stanford researchers analysed initiatives undertaken by 23,809 organizations – both successful and unsuccessful. This study demonstrated that most organizations attempting to receive suggestions from external contributors will not be successful and that most of the initiatives wither and die. It also reminds us of the risks involved when studying only successful cases and the danger of organizations underestimating the resources required to bring initiatives to a successful outcome.
The study revealed several important things including that:
The high failure rate and the need to pay detailed attention to external contributors highlight the importance of considering the costs of open innovation and of managing the process with care.
In considering the process organizations should bear in mind three specific ways to encourage suggestions from external contributors which were identified by the researchers:
Open to Suggestions: How Organizations Elicit Suggestions through Proactive and Reactive Attention. Linus Dahlander & Henning Piezunka. Research Policy (June 2014).
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