Is Crowdsourcing Innovation Purely a Numbers Game?

by Dave Hannon

May 5, 2011

By Dave Hannon


I’ve been reading (and writing) a lot about harnessing the power of the “crowd” to drive innovation lately— it’s a topic that has my curiosity for a few reasons. 

SAP has certainly embraced the concept of finding innovation in the broader “ecosystem” as Steve Graham points out in this recent article in SAPinsider. I also recently came across InnoCentive, an online innovation “marketplace” (I know, I loathe that term too) where innovation challenges are posted by seekers and solvers suggest ideas and the winners are paid. And while I shouldn’t be surprised, I learned SAP is in fact a supporter of InnoCentive, at least as far back as TechEd 2008, as my astute colleague Davin Wilfred covered here (yeah, I spend a lot of time playing catch-up around here).

Clearly, crowdsourcing is now an accepted business innovation strategy. Businesses really believe the next great idea or improvement to their product line is out in the crowd somewhere and some are spending a lot of money developing tools and strategies to find those ideas.

So it begs the question: is it the quantity of the crowd, or the quality of the crowd that’s going to get you the right solution? When you start reading about things like sentiment analysis (as I pointed to in this blog post) it would suggest that innovation could be a numbers game, right?

And if it’s quantity you’re after, then the more people you’re reaching for innovation, the more ideas you’ll find, right? And who’s got the most people? Anywhere?

China. It’s clear that China’s reputation for innovation is growing and more companies and industries are looking at it as a source of innovation instead of a source of consumers that will buy their “stuff.” This Reuters article, out just this morning, takes an in-depth look at China’s innovation efforts. There is a flood of government funding aimed at innovation and there are some pretty creative entrepreneurs highlighted as well.

There is (slightly) less talk of intellectual property risk and (significantly) more talk of harnessing Chinese innovation. The Reuters report touches on both, highlighting General Motors’ work with a local Chinese automotive maker to develop cars that the Chinese population will go for.

Also evidence to the fact: last year Procter & Gamble spent a boatload of investment to open a new innovation center in Beijing. Its goal is to develop products for the Chinese market, but frankly, that could have been done from anywhere. P&G’s setting up shop in China is another clear indication that big companies see innovation potential in that market, not just massive sales growth potential.

And, when the previously mentioned InnoCentive was still in its infancy and partnering with universities around the world for innovation guidance, it also looked to China, partnering with a host of Chinese universities almost a decade ago.

Combine that improved reputation with China’s sheer mass and it’s a powerful crowdsourcing/innovation one-two punch.

So, what do you think? Is crowdsourcing innovation about quantity of the crowd or quality of the crowd?

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