All Articles Leadership Strategy Internal crowdsourcing isn't new, but are you still missing out?

Internal crowdsourcing isn’t new, but are you still missing out?

To capture innovation, leaders need to move beyond pure technology solutions and scale the internal crowdsourcing that's already taking place.

4 min read




Chances are high you’ve practiced internal crowdsourcing as a form of daily problem-solving in your organization. Using your employees instead of customers as sources for new ideas or market research is such an efficient concept that even if you haven’t referred to it as “internal crowdsourcing” or don’t have a formal process for it, you’ve probably done it.

Do your people have impromptu brainstorming sessions near the company watercooler or meetings to “talk through ideas”? That’s internal crowdsourcing.

Solving increasingly complex business problems requires more sophisticated solutions — this is the new status quo executives face across every industry. In response, executives have turned to technology, namely big data. But to consistently anticipate and meet the challenges that torment companies daily, leaders need to move beyond pure technology solutions and scale the internal crowdsourcing that’s already taking place.

The pressure to innovate pushes internal crowdsourcing to center stage

“What have you done for me lately?”

It’s the question executives are used to hearing from their stakeholders, shareholders and board of directors, but providing a satisfactory answer has proven tricky in the modern era. Leaders are now tasked with developing a cycle of innovation that bolsters the brand’s reputation as a visionary organization and allows the company to quickly respond to market dynamics that seem to shift on a whim.

These demands call for a range of skill sets, knowledge and problem-solving styles. Most stakeholders understand that a culture of innovation makes their company more efficient and better equipped to be responsive, and executives are expected to nurture such a culture by default.

Even exceedingly creative individuals or small groups simply can’t consider problems from every possible angle. Internal crowdsourcing allows organizations to collect input from a base of potentially untapped talent, sparking innovation and creating a more agile enterprise.

Lower barriers to entry have led to increasingly crowded consumer markets

Businesses have traditionally used market research to determine how to make their offerings more distinctive. This, of course, is a form of external crowdsourcing, which we’ve seen from companies like Doritos, but it’s hard to overcome customers’ inherent biases and lack of institutional knowledge.

Your employees are very knowledgeable about your products and methods, and they tend to focus much more on feasible goals than customers, who have the luxury of suggesting without implementing.

Although 90% of employees believe executives should consider other opinions before making decisions, 40% think decision-makers regularly fail to do so. Collecting and leveraging ideas from your internal crowd will not only diversify employee skills but will also give them ownership over the company and its success.

IBM has experimented with this concept. Starting with a monthlong trial, leaders gave 500 employees $100 they could spend on one another’s proposed projects, which were posted in an online portal. The projects focused on verticals including technology and morale, and it was so successful that IBM launched additional iterations in other areas of the company.

Forecasting more accurately in the face of uncertainty

Stakeholders ultimately want assurance about the future. It’s no longer enough to react to situations once your key metrics already indicate a need for action. Internal crowdsourcing empowers leaders to couple past trends with future predictions. Your “human cloud” can forecast the outcomes of different decisions and upcoming marketplace trends with surprising levels of accuracy.

By installing internal crowdsourcing initiatives as a part of your company’s core business strategy, you’ll create a dynamic problem-solving mechanism that allows you to stay ahead of the market, enrich the professional lives of your employees, and instill your directors and shareholders with confidence.


Adam Siegel is the co-founder and CEO of Cultivate Labs, a tech company that has created an internal Kickstarter-style crowdfunding platform to help inspire and prioritize innovative ideas. Follow Siegel and his team on Twitter @cultivatelabs.

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