If someone was to take a look at your company, how many of the things that you take for granted would be baffling to those who don’t know the business? Roadblocks to efficiency and killers of creativity are most obvious to those who haven’t grown accustomed to them. Input, questions and suggestions from strangers are often exactly the nudge companies need to send them in the right direction.
Crowdsourcing creativity both within and beyond your business is a highly successful practice, but how can these fresh perspectives be found? There are 3 ways of sourcing crucial perspective to enable crowdsourced creativity.
Here are those 3:
In 2008, Proctor & Gamble and Google embarked on an employee swap program in an effort to spur creativity. Although both companies are known for their innovation, each believed they could learn from the perspectives of the other – especially considering the very different industries they operated in. Just over 20 human resource and marketing employees from each company spent weeks observing how the other did business – and made suggestions that seemed obvious from their ‘outside’ perspective.
As one example of how valuable this proved to be, Google observed P&G planning the promotional launch for its new Pampers line. The Google team members noticed that P&G hadn’t thought to invite any ‘mommy bloggers’ to attend the product launch even though these bloggers can attract up to six million visitors to their websites. Google’s suggestion of this one key element which P&G had overlooked ended up being a critical factor in the product launch’s success.
While cross-pollination can occur between vastly different organizations, it can be equally effective with people within the same organization, but from different departments or areas of specialty. One effective example of this was in a ski resort in Keystone which used internal cross-pollination in an effort to bring about innovation. Keystone initiated a program they called ‘novice consulting’ where individual staff members would spend a number of hours once a week in an area of the business about which they had no knowledge. The point was to ask ‘dumb questions’ about systems or practices that didn’t make sense to them in that department.
Within six weeks, the hundreds of naïve questions resulted in dozens of new ideas and innovations. One idea alone involving the process of selling tickets has reportedly saved the company tens of thousands of dollars annually.
Fostering cross-pollination between businesses and departments is a great way to improve business efficiency, stimulate creativity and provoke innovation. This cross-pollination, which so often occurs in the incidental conversations between employees in the office, is something COVID has endangered. Businesses would do well to actively encourage it.
A second way of harnessing the value of those with fresh perspectives is by using competition to incentivize creativity.
NASA regularly crowdsources creativity through incentivised competitions in order to stimulate innovation and generate new ideas. In 2020, NASA was tackling the challenge of generating power and electricity on the moon where solar energy is lacking. In order to generate innovation, they launched a competition named the ‘Watts on the Moon Challenge’ with a prize pool of $5 million in collaboration with the crowdsourcing platform HeroX.
Responding to different mission activity challenges, various teams have taken home big prizes in Phase 1 of this program. Offering ideas such as tethered rovers to connect power cables between power plants and mobility platforms, and systems of power cells and intelligent interfaces for distributing and storing power during the moon’s light and temperature changes were among the winning ideas.
By opening up the space innovation playing field to the everyday engineer and entrepreneur, NASA optimises its ideation abilities and generates solutions that otherwise never would have been reached.
This third way to leverage fresh eyes is by using a collaborative or ‘open market’ approach and here again, Proctor and Gamble offers a good example.
When A.G. Lafley became CEO of the company in 2000, he increased the projected ratio of product innovation from external sources from 10% to 50% and by 2006, had all but realized his goal. Some of the products that were developed using ideas from external sources included Swiffer, WetJet, Olay Daily Facials, Crest Whitestrip and Max Factor Lipfinity.
More recently and after having recognised the growing online power and radical perspective of today’s youth, P&G have turned to key online Gen Z influencers including the undisputed queen of TikTok, Charli D’Amelio. In March 2020, P&G collaborated with the then-15 year old to choreograph a TikTok dance video. The video was not product-focussed but instead was designed to combat COVID-19 through social distancing and had been viewed almost 200 million times within a week of its launch.
Inviting perspectives and contributions from those who not only think outside the box, but are outside the box is the best way to stimulate creativity and innovation in organisations. Cross-pollination, competition and collaboration are each effective ways of encouraging the sharing of these perspectives. Crowd-sourced creativity is often the best creativity, and businesses that are keen to move at the cutting edge would do well to engage in it.
Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.
He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and is a bestselling author of 9 books. His most recent book The New Now examines the 10 trends that will dominate a post-COVID world and how to prepare for them now.
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 Dyer, J, Gregersen, H & Christensen, C. 2011, The Innovator’s DNA, Harvard Business School, pp. 202, 203
 Kriegel, R. 1991, If it ain’t broke… break it!, Time Warner, New York, p. 137
 Nichols, G 2020, ‘NASA launches $5M competition to bring power to the moon’, ZDNet, 1 October.
 2021, ‘NASA Awards $500K in First Phase of $5M Watts on the Moon Challenge’, NASA, 1 May.
 Pearl, D. 2020, ‘TikTok Star Charli D’Amelio and P&G Create Dance Challenge for Social Distancing’, Adweek, 8 April.