Jessi Hempel's article Crowdsourcing: Milk the Masses for Inspiration, in Business Week's Innovation Supplement this week, was one of the few mentions of customer-led innovation in this entire 40-page survey of trends in innovation. (It's interesting that BW devotes so much ink to innovative design and to product innovation, and so little ink to customer-led innovation.)
Jessi referenced consumers designing ads on Current TV ("Make the Ads You Want to Watch!),
customers contributing designs at John Fluevog Boots and Shoes open source footwear site,
and scientists competing to solve thorny problems at InnoCentive.
Thank you, Jessi, for writing about the important topic of user-led innovation!
"Crowdsourcing" was also the topic of an earlier BW article Crowdsourcing: Consumers as Creators by Paul Boutin, in which Paul referencing the MIT Sloan Management Review article by Frank Piller and Susumu Ogawa that I mentioned last December. This article has engendered a modicum of whining on the part of readers who feel that designers/inventors should be paid handsomely for their contributions, not "taken advantage of." It's important to point out that the people who choose to contribute their time, creativity and ideas to a contest or a challenge, typically do it, not so much for the money, but for the satisfaction of seeing their ideas realized. And, one colleague said recently, "if you don't want to give your IP away, then don't do it!"
I'm not as much of a fan of "crowd" sourcing as I am of "lead customer" sourcing. Certainly having lots of creative minds contribute ideas may increase your chances of solving a tough problem. As Alph Bingham, the CEO of InnoCentive explained to me over dinner, Archimedes solved the problem of determining whether King Hiero's crown was solid gold or not by taking a bath and noticing the displacement of the water in his tub. "If we have thousands of scientists looking at a problem, the chances are better that one of them will take a bath." On the other hand, professional research scientists aren't exactly the teeming masses that the term "crowdsourcing" implies. InnoCentive is impressive because it has attracted 100,000 scientists from around the world. But for each challenge posed, only a dozen or two of scientists typically invest the time and effort to try to produce a solution.
Those of us who have been active in the field of customer-led innovation for a while know that true lead users--the ones who will truly innovate-- are not part of the masses. They are the passionate, insightful folks who are in the minority. In fact, the compelling InData graphics based on the data pulled together by Business Week's Aili McConnon illustrate that point nicely. (Sorry, I don't have the link to the nice graphics--the PDF seems to be crashing the new version of Firefox.):
The 1% Rule
for user-generated content--
In a group of 100 wired people...
1 will create content..
10 will interact with content....
89 will view the content and interactions.
(Source: Business Week, InData, p. 40, IN, September, 2006)
Sounds about right to me!