Thursday, December 31, 2009

Value added innovation

I read with great interest the post by Grant McCracken that addresses the "brief" moment in the sun for creative types.  Grant's concern is that crowdsourcing will allow corporations to source design skills, ideas and other creative concepts from the internet, rather than turning to creative design organizations.  In this, he is probably right.  There's a growing awareness that there are good ideas "out there" if we can only tap them.  You need look no further than Dell's IdeaStorm or BestBuy's Idea Exchange for proof.  Currently you can create a campaign or contest to design a new logo.  Chuck Frey's new logo at Innovation Tools was designed in a contest, and he allowed many of his readers to vote on the designs they liked best.  What I'm having a hard time with is that the concerns McCracken raises are misplaced in my opinion.

Yes, there are thousands of creative types working in their homes and hundreds of thousands of people who have good ideas for Dell, and for BestBuy.  And who could provide ideas to firms that really need them, like General Motors, or the Federal Government.  But I digress.  All we've done with crowdsourcing is leverage the internet to capture the ideas these individuals have always had.  The internet has simply provided a marketplace for us to exchange our skills with willing buyers, whether those skills are design skills, or ideation skills, or photography skills in the case of Flickr and other photography sites.  While this is happening, this doesn't portend the end of creative design firms or innovation teams in businesses.  Here's why.

I can crowdsource ideas, or designs, once I've had the insight into key problems or opportunities.  Only when I, the requester of ideas or designs, have identified the opportunities, established the context and strategy, and determined how to implement the idea or design, do I even need the "Crowd".  We never felt threatened when we asked people to help us in a brainstorming setting, so why should we feel threatened when the brainstorming session gets significantly larger?  We don't hold a lock on ideas or concepts - no one does.  Perhaps some people or firms are better at generating ideas or concepts than others, but that's only on the margins.  If P&G is willing to accept 50% of their new product ideas from outside the firm, then perhaps we should all start crowdsourcing at some level. 

The real value in creativity and innovation is in identifying the opportunities and emerging threats and moving to a new place before others do.  Asking people to help identify the ideas based on a specific opportunity or strategy we've developed, and having the wherewithal to select and implement the best ideas is where the value is added.  This isn't to denigrate the people who submit ideas or designs, but they are only fulfilling one step of a much broader process, in the context that we've set, for outcomes and purposes that we've determined.

There's a great deal of value to be tapped in crowds and crowdsourcing, but as the Dell folks can tell you, 15,000 ideas later, the real magic is in understanding which ones to choose and having the skill to implement the right ones.  That's where the real value in innovation or creativity lies.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:26 AM


Anonymous Consensio said...

the proliferation of ideas is inevitable. If we see the knowledge economy as the logical continuation of the industrial age, there would be of course a point were we need to find 'the next' differentiator to keep the economic ball rolling.

I guess we just spent most of last century trying to get out of the industrial age, but only a few years into the 21st century we are already into the next big economic thing.

Whether creatives are really threatened by crowd sourcing depends on their response to adding value to their clients. If a Graphic Designer understands 'value add' as producing 'good logos and brochures' or as 'understanding good business objectives', will make or break the creative industries.

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