Open Innovation From A Practitioner's Perspective

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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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Getting to the Right Question

(I posted this originally in the Clorox Open Innovation Site). As companies prepare themselves to enter this new world of open innovation and bringing in the best ideas from the outside, they need to become proficient in several new skills (at the company level and the individual level). Let’s start with individual skills, two of which I’ll highlight here. The first is developing the ability to properly frame questions. Individuals need to remove all unnecessary jargon, acronyms, application(s) of the technology, in order to provide a diverse group of solution providers the ability to solve the problem. Many times I have seen people rush directly to problem-solving mode without pausing for a minute to think about what question they are trying to answer.

The second key skill set for individual contributors to develop is perhaps more difficult to achieve, and that is the shift from being a problem solver to a solution finder. We were trained and rewarded on the basis of our ability to solve problems. In the new open innovation paradigm, your value should be determined equally between your ability to solve a problem yourself and/or your ability to find the solution.

And, of course, the better you become at framing the question the easier it is to find the solution in an open innovation environment!

Two points I left out intentionally (which I will address in future posts): how can/should companies re-work their reward/recognition programs to encourage these new skills and how will these new skills help/hurt in managing confidentiality/IP?

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More on Confidentiality and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

As an update to an earlier post on this same topic, I want to focus on several ideas to properly manage IPR in an open innovation/crowdsourcing context.

First, I’ll repeat what I think it important for everyone to understand: not every single challenge or idea, whether it comes from R&D or marketing or product development, is a candidate for an open innovation/crowdsourcing approach. This is where every organization needs to start – with a determination of what is and is not fair game to share externally. In my experience I have seen that even after a company sets aside those challenges or projects that are considered too sensitive to share externally, there is a still a lot of information to work with.

Secondly, and really the focus of this post, is to consider a critical skill everyone needs to develop to be successful: framing the question properly. Too often I’ve seen companies focus on problem-solving and not problem-framing. I’ve been told by many senior managers that a properly framed question can be 70-80% of the work in getting the answer they are looking for.

How can questions be framed properly:

* make sure to breakdown the question into smaller ‘pieces’; this allows for a more focused effort on the part of potential soution providers and it also helps mask the problem (a few pixels won’t give you the whole picture)

* remove all industry or corporate jargon (helps to hide the potential application or market opportunity)

* clearly define solution criteria (this helps somewhat in managing confidentiality but also it’s jsut a good practice in general)

In summary, spend more time thinking about the real problem you are trying to solve and not only will you improve your chances of success but you will also improve your control of what information you disclose (and the risk associated with that disclosure).

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