The Strength That Comes From Within
As crowdsourcing becomes more widely adopted as a corporate innovation tool, the spotlight is on external crowdsourcing: engaging outside stakeholders such as experts, customers, and the general public to understand market demands and to collaborate on new product and service development.
At the same time, organizations have recognized the innovative power of one more important constituency: their own employees. A growing body of business cases shows how the collective wisdom of internal “crowds” is being successfully used--in a process known as internal crowdsourcing--to collect new product and service ideas, to solve technical and business problems and to forecast internal and external outcomes and trends.
There are at least five important benefits that internal crowdsourcing can bring to any organization, in addition to innovation and forecasting:
1. Cross-Communication in Large Organizations
Internal crowdsourcing provides a communication platform between different corporate units that in many organizations often have no institutional space to discuss strategic issues. By providing such a platform, internal crowdsourcing increases the efficiency of the decision-making process and reduces the need for face-to-face meetings.
2. Fostering Collaboration
Internal crowdsourcing helps foster the very culture of collaboration, bringing together corporate units that are traditionally involved in the innovation process (R&D and Marketing) with those that are not (Business Development, Finance, Legal, HR). Much has been said about the notorious “NIH (Not Invented Here) Syndrome.” However, it’s important to remember that the NIH Syndrome manifests not only as a rejection of external knowledge and expertise, but also as resistance to intra-company collaboration, as individual units are often reluctant to share their findings with others. By breaking internal silos and promoting intra-company collaboration, internal crowdsourcing creates a systemic acceptance and active practice of continuous ideation and forecasting and reduce the fear of failure.
3. Accelerating the Corporate R&D Cycle
Internal crowdsourcing can be used to find solutions to problems that individual units have failed to solve on their own. Such problem-solving could be especially productive in multinational corporations with numerous units spread over geographic and time zones. People in different units, often brought together as a result of M&A, rarely communicate with each other and almost never meet face-to-face. Yet, often one unit may possess specific knowledge that is desperately needed—and can be immediately implemented–in another. Connecting such “dots” (or collecting “low-hanging fruits,” one might say) through internal crowdsourcing could result in significant savings of time and money for internal R&D.
4. Creating a Base of Support for External Innovation
Internal crowdsourcing provides intellectual and operational support for the organization’s external innovation programs. Initially, it helps identify and formulate problems whose solution would require external sources of knowledge and expertise. Later, it may facilitate testing and implementing of incoming external ideas and solutions.
5. Identifying an Organization’s True Thought Leaders
Internal crowdsourcing helps identify the organization’s emerging thought leaders, who–especially in junior positions and in geographically remote units–often remain unnoticed to the corporate leaders. Because of its intrinsically democratic nature, internal crowdsourcing provides voice to every employee regardless of their rank and location in the company. Besides, the very format of online communication is especially attractive to Millennials who play an increasingly important role in the global marketplace.
When developing a viable corporate innovation strategy, organizations must create a balanced portfolio of internal and external innovation programs. Yet corporate innovation leaders should always remember that the full potential of any innovation program can only be realized by the concerted effort of properly connected people within organizations. Or, putting this differently, the power of corporate innovation comes from the strength within.