Crowdsourcing innovation is primarily about collaboration, and to better understand the drivers and practices behind it, Information Architected conducted a survey. Here are some of their findings.

In Q2 2010, Information Architected launched a short survey on Crowdsourcing and Open Innovation, as part of our ongoing research into awareness and execution of innovation management. Nearly 300 respondents provided their input (n=289).

In this research, we were not looking at the specific features/functions of innovation management solutions, whether bought as stand-alone, integrated into a "generic" platform such as SharePoint, or built in-house, but rather on the business drivers, goals, fears and experiences of Crowdsourcing and Open Innovation.

As experienced CMS practitioners know, without understanding the core activities and drivers of innovation, picking an "innovation tool" or a "collaboration tool" by itself is unlikely to get you to the end-result you're looking for.

Laying a Foundation - Definitions

Innovation needs focus, and that focus needs to come from the definition that you, your firm and your boss (or executive management) apply to it -- all other definitions need not apply, they're irrelevant.

To frame our research, Crowdsourcing or Open Innovation is about taking innovation out of the hands of the few, typically in the R&D lab, marketing or new product development personnel, and actively engaging increasingly larger portions of your own firm/organization, and ultimately, with sufficient maturity and experience, out into partners, suppliers and customers (in that order).

While Crowdsourcing can also applied to accomplishing nearly any task, such as logo design, web development, microtasks such as address lookups or web page editorializing and more, our focus here is specifically on innovation -- whether the front end of idea generation, vetting or ultimately in execution.

The Next Wave of Collaboration

Crowdsourcing Innovation, at its heart, is about collaboration -- and collaboration is, frankly, not an activity that most adults have learned to do well.

Editor's Note: Also read: Collaboration – If it Were That Easy We Would all Do It – Well by Information Architected's Carl Frappaolo.

The Problems

In fact, a sampling of comments from respondents state the problems well:

"Domain experts say "Great idea, but that's not my priority right now, and oh by the way I can't let you move forward without me." -- a combination of the Not Invented Here syndrome, and the Fiefdom syndrome.

"Domain experts who get a lot of suggestions from people who are not skilled in the domain see it as a burden to respond and educate the masses, so they soon lose interest and their participation drops which creates a 'suggestion box black hole.'" -- an issue of focusing specialists and job responsibilities too narrowly to "make time to innovate" and the "not my job" syndrome.

"The major problem, as I see it, is the concept is foreign to the majority of likely participants (this is a very successful, but old and stodgy company) there is no way to move forward at more than a snail's pace." -- the "we've always done it this way" syndrome -- no sense of a "burning platform".

Note that none of these statements have anything to do with technology -- these are people and culture problems -- by far, the biggest barriers to innovation of any flavor.

Learning Opportunities

The Successes

This is not to say that everyone is willing to settle for the status quo, as these statements of crowdsourcing success indicate:

"For internal employees, our efforts have helped individuals transcend organizational silos and help meet and gather information and knowledge from around the company." -- representing cross-functional collaboration.

"Ability to use on a business unit basis to rapidly solve business problems withside benefit that more employees are aware or bought into the solutions at the front end." -- representing employee engagement.

"There has been an increase in the size of participation in our internal efforts. The primary success is acceptance of concept and creation of an internal site designed to encourage participation and the collection of ideas." -- early stages of silo-busting and employee engagement.

If you believe that collaboration = technology, let me dispell that myth with a quote from Carlos Dominguez, SVP in Cisco Systems Inc. Office of the Chairman of the Board.

I'd interviewed Carlos in 2009, and even though Cisco has a massive toolkit of online collaboration tools (buoyed by the announcement this year of "Quad" - shipping in 2011), one of Carlos's most incisive comments was, essentially, "If you suck at meetings in person, you're only going to 'virtually suck' online." This applies equally to collaboration in general, and Crowdsourcing Innovation in particular.

To paraphrase the Clinton campaign, "It's the people, stupid!". Get the basics nailed, and technology is rocket fuel for innovation. Otherwise, it's the fuel of disaster.

See Part 2 of Crowdsourcing and the Next Wave of Collaboration tomorrow when Dan discusses the maturity of crowdsourcing innovation as a practice and a technology.