Open Innovation From A Practitioner's Perspective


What Went Wrong With The Crowdsourced Ideas For BP Oil Spill?

BP has received a lot of criticism for failing to respond adequately (or in a timely manner) to the thousands of ideas that it received, both solicited and unsolicited. If they (BP) would have followed a few key elements of open innovation and crowdsourcing, perhaps this would have had a better result. As of this post, I am aware that BP is currently reviewing the submissions and hopefully they’ll glean something of value to prevent future disasters of this scale.

Where did they go wrong?

1) Asking the Question: Trying to present a single solution that addressed all of the challenges facing BP is like trying to cure cancer with one experiment. What BP should have done is break the challenge down into various key categories (containment, recovery, clean up, etc) and posed a series of requests in each category. That would have directed the crowd to focus on one area or another.

2) Collaboration: To my knowledge, both the solicited and unsolicited ideas were brought forward by individuals and/or companies, with no ability to see each others ideas and build or improve them. A more collaborative process would have gone a long way to improve the quality of ideas and perhaps even reduce the total number of ideas (since people would find other ideas to build on before entering their own).

3) Filters: clearly with this number of ideas you need filters. Again, with a truly crowdsourced and collaborative process the crowd can act as a filter. Not sure how BP is filtering / analyzing the ideas submitted but I’m pretty sure that at this point the crowd isn’t involved.

Perhaps one thing they did achieve (not by design, I might add) was diversity. It looked like they were getting ideas from all over the world and from a diverse group of participants. What a wasted opportunity.

Lastly, perhaps there is a chance for BP to open up these submissions to the global community and see if they can salvage some ideas to prevent this from happening again in the future. I’m sure there are a few diamonds in that pile of information.

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Netflix Prize Winners Announced

This is proving to be a fascinating story on open innovation/crowdsourcing and the tremendous benefits it can provide, beyond financial. Clearly it’s important to achieve the desired financial results (new sales, reduced costs, etc) but the other rewards are just as important. These include learning how to ask the question, the value of iteration, expanding your network.

Netflix has announced the winner of the first Netflix prize, which was created to improve their current recommendation engine by 10%. The process itself and what was learned along the way were as interesting as the result itself. Teams cooperated and published their algorithms, with the hope that others would come in and improve them (and they did). The original team would take the improved algorithm and make it even better. Some companies gave their employees permission to work on this during their work hours. Why? Because in the end this made them better programmers and what they learned by participating actually led to $10 million payoff (internally), according to one company.

Netflix announced a new competition with a new set of criteria, it’s also covered in the same article. Looks like they learned how to better frame the question……

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NY Times: The Crowd Is Wise (When It’s Focused)

Here’s an article that came out today in the NY Times on open innovation titled “The Crowd Is Wise (When It’s Focused)”.

I couldn’t agree more with the argument. I would also submit that one way to focus the crowd is to properly frame the question. They also point out that it’s not always the size of the network that matters, it’s what that network can do. I also agree but only on the type of challenge that is specific in nature. Jeff Howe (Crowdsourcing) calls this crowdcasting. Another form of crowdsourcing is where every member of the community can participate such as the NASA Clickworker Project ( In that project, the size of the network DOES matter. The collective intelligence (or capacity) increases with every new member.

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Crowdsourcing the Patent Application Process

Very interesting story for the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on using volunteer labor to help evaluate patent applications and uncover prior art which may be relelvant:

It’s a great idea, one that makes a lot of sense, and perhaps it is the ONLY solution that can address the enormous backlog of applications (> 1 million). While still in it’s very early stages I applaud the move by the USPTO.

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What is open innovation?


Open innovation shares similarities with crowdsourcing and is inspired in part by the open source software movement. This new approach to innovating can be employed by companies large and small and the most successful practitioners recognize that every single employee, business partner, and customer can play a role .

Open innovation…..

* is a means of innovation ‘production’, not a type of innovation such as disruptive innovation or incremental innovation
* requires increased transparency and new forms of cooperation on the part of all participants
* can save $$ and increase efficiency

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