Benson: Innovation Exchange is an online global
innovation network that helps Fortune 500 companies solve their
innovation challenges in the broad business areas of product
development, marketing, sales, operations, designs, supply chain
and research. We do it by tapping into that collective intelligence
and resources of a proprietary network global community of
innovators and we believe that it is our understanding of the
physics and the psychology of online communities that makes us
successful. We make sure that the right people collaborate and with
the right virtual teams on the right projects for the optimal
results for our clients.
The Innovation Exchange platform is
designed to govern the process and create a community that becomes
more productive the more that it is engaged with, and a community
where people network and learn from each other too.
We built this business model because
we have a firm belief that sustained innovation is no longer about
who has the most gifted employees - because we all know you can
never have enough - and it is not about who has the best equipped
Research and Development labs - because lots of companies have
those and lots of companies have failed. It is more about who has
access to the most compelling innovation community and that just
does not mean your customers and it just doesn't mean one or two
We believe it is a global community of
resources and people that you need to have access to and so we've
established the Innovation Exchange as a source for that whole
Crowdsourcing is nothing new and we have seen some great cases like
Wikipedia and even commercially focused ones, like Dell Ideastorm.
But why does it stay relevant?
actual concept of reaching out to people for solutions has been
around since the 1700s. In 1714 the measurement of longtitude was a
problem that came into sharp focus as people began making
transoceanic voyages. The British government realised this was
something that needed to be unlocked and offered a £20.000 reward
to anyone who could come up with a simple and precise method of
determining a ship's longtitud. Numerous awards were given against
So reaching out to people to solve
problems is not new. What is new is our ability to connect and our
ability to communicate with people on a global scale. I think
social relationships have been completely redefined by the internet
and some of the technology that is going on. I think who we know
now is becoming much more important than what we own. We are right
now at a crossroads where the world is really too fast, too complex
and too networked for any company to have all of the answers
I think organisations have come to the
realisation that they need to look across disciplines and they need
to look across sectors to find the innovations that will matter
tomorrow. It is not necessarily all going to come out of their
Research and Development (R&D).
CG: Can crowdsourcing
SB: No. I am
a firm believer in saying that we do not replace R&D
departments we are just an adjunct to them. We are an extra tool in
an organisation's innovation tool box. Crowdsourcing is just an
extra little tool that organisations can use to reach certain
things and certain challenges lend themselves better just having
somebody solve it through an internal employee and some challenges
lend themselves better to maybe look outside the company's four
CG: How does a
company get started using crowdsourcing? And how do you motivate
and initiate that crowdsourcing experience? Is that all done
internally through the company or through a million dollar
competition to come up with the best idea?
SB: It's not
necessarily always a million dollar competition. We have spent a
lot of time working with academics because we wanted to get a real
understanding of how people operate in network communities online.
What motivates them? This has resulted in us developing a couple of
algorithms with between 120-150 variables that identify what
motivates somebody to actually participate in a particular
And the financial variable is
sometimes weighted fairly low. To get started we make a broad or
narrow call to action to our community. But it is always a
well-managed process, it is not just to throw something against the
wall and see what sticks.
CG: Out of those 150
variables that makes people want to join, what would you say would
be the main incentive for consumers to participate in
crowdsourcing? And is it something that people can actually make a
making a living obviously depends. Do our incentives have the
ability to make a life change for certain people? Absolutely. We
have a team in Romania who worked on a challenge and were
successful and our client purchased that for $100.000. $100.000
goes a lot further in Romania than in the US . We also have another
team who used their reward payment as seed money for a business
they'd always wanted to start so they quit their jobs and followed
However, I believe that you will see
the financial reward being taken out of the equation more and more
as crowdsourcing evolves. Instead the whole social aspect is
something that will grow and the financial aspect is something that
will diminish. I don't have to pay a $100.000 reward but I have to
do something else, something that is socially relevant to the folks
and the organisation that are working on the challenges.
Some of the motivating factors that we
have seen coming more to the fore include peer recognition and just
the creative and intellectual challenge of being able to solve
something that a Fortune 500 might not be able to. Crowdsourcing is
a creative and intellectual challenge in and of itself and people
get motivated by many different things with the financial piece
being just one small component which has a different weight for
CG: Is crowdsourcing
something that can be used by all brands and all sectors from
consumer brands, businesses, business to business and that can be
used for all challenges? So what's really the range here?
SB: We are a
firm believer here that certain challenges aren't designed for the
Innovation Exchange. If you need specialisation you might want to
look somewhere else. We thrive on challenges that require a broad
diversity of thinking. Here is a silly analogy to make my point: I
wouldn't want somebody doing a medical operation on me if they have
diverse experience in all sorts of things. I want a person who is
doing that medical operation to be a specialist in that specific
area. So that challenge is best tended by someone who is a deep
CG: Do you see any
differences region by region? We know from commercial online
behavior that there is great variation in how much different
regions participate. South America and the APAC are much more
likely to be 'content creators' than Europe for example.
SB: We do
not experience that difference. Our community has 192 countries
represented and we do get a significant amount of solutions coming
in from Europe. It is probably because we are a community with
CG: Do you think a
business like Innovation Exchange is required, especially for more
complicated crowdsourcing projects. Or could a company just put out
a challenge on the internet and say here's a banner, and here's a
million dollars if you solve that question?
becomes an electronic suggestion box and we are definitely not an
electronic suggestion box. This isn't a technology play at all. So
anybody can throw up a piece of technology, which is an electronic
suggestion box and say "hey... here's a question", here's a million
dollars, give me your suggestions" and that is a viable thing to do
and organisations have been successful doing that. However, we have
a much more managed process and although it is called open
innovation, it is open with a managed structure behind it.
CG: In general where
do you see crowdsourcing heading from a more practical perspective.
Are the projects becoming bigger more elaborate or are they
becoming smaller and more relevant for everyday use?
SB: I think
they are becoming smaller and I think they are being integrated
into very many different areas. Initially when we started out it
was the marketing guys who saw the value of this. Now we're seeing
all sorts of different elements of a business organisation getting
involved and saying "hey, we have an issue and a problem, I wonder
if the community could solve it"
CG: So there is no
doubt that this is becoming more common, so it is becoming a part
of any serious business toolbox for solving problems basically.
SB: Yes, I
fully see it as that.
Q: Christian Godske is Head of Digital
at MediaCom Denmark. One of his professional milestones was when,
as EMEA Client Service Director for Nokia, he helped launch the
biggest online multiplayer experience "Nokia Games". Christian is
an external lecturer and a much soughtafter speaker on social
media, new media and trends.
A: Stephen Benson is the founder of
the crowdsourcing organisation, Innovation Exchange. Since starting
the business in 2007 he has worked with some of the world's largest
THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS
EXPRESSED IN THIS DOCUMENT ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR.