It is an accepted fact at this point: tapping into the “wisdom of the crowd” or “crowdsourcing” is a great way to get to a reliable set of truths. By asking lots of people what they think about any given challenge, the group, acting as a holistic unit, will generally push the best idea forward.
A promoted idea will most often
- yield the best financial return,
- offer the best way to answer the challenge at hand and,
- ultimately point to the best path forward for the organization discussing the topic.
However, human nature can sometimes add a mix of positive and dangerous components into the process! By being aware of both effects, the company’s innovation managers can keep the process on track.
Superficial Attributes Still Have Powerful Impacts on Results
Here are some potential pitfalls that we’ve seen:
1. In any group of collaborators, the loudest, or most senior, or most persistent voice often wins, or shuts down an idea before it’s fully developed. Whether it’s fair or not.
2. If the idea we’re discussing reminds those who are collaborating of fond moments from their youth, they’re going to have more positive feelings toward those items. The average team member in the collaborative process working on an idea is going to vote for an idea that brings back memories of “Good and Plenty Candy” and watching movies with our Dads. Even if these are not the best ideas.
For example one surfactant manufacturing company had their best people strolling a two day trip down nostalgia lane (“Why can’t we bring out a product like we all used to have in our kitchens growing up?) The Innovation Manager had to kill the discussion pointing out that the product proved poisonous. “People, please move on”. People are attracted to items from their early youth.
3. Even the words we use can play a part. Think about how all of us might pronounce the current year (i.e., twenty twelve, two thousand twelve, etc.). How we describe things can affect how everyone perceives the discussion and how everyone rates the value of the idea. Some descriptions just won’t sound right to others when they read them. If you’re like me you’ll disastrously try to correct “It ain’t necessarily so”, losing its impact. This discordance can yield a negative perception of a great idea.
4. We all bring our political viewpoints with us to the conversations. It won’t be surprising to discover that some of the Conservatives on our team seem happier with the status quo, pushing down ideas that are too new. In general they have a happiness advantage from their greater belief in personal control and responsibility. They tend to have more optimism and self worth and are pretty happy with the status quo. Their opinions are still valuable…we just need to take these effects into account.
5. Power achieved is power perceived. Or “why your boss overreaches.” When people have power, they are more confident in their answers. This is why you need collaborators from all levels at your company. Those in management tend to think their opinions are worth more. Sometimes they…sometimes they just think they are.
6. We’re evolutionarily programmed to be interested in danger as a form of self protection. Or, everyone loves a good train wreck. When an idea goes askew, don’t be surprised to see a downward spiral as a result of the crowd smelling blood in the water. One negative comment can yield a dozen more effectively killing the idea. We need people to poke holes in our thinking; to test our theses. But again, innovation managers need to be in charge of the throttle so good ideas aren’t accidentally killed prematurely.
7. When people have skin in the game, they want to contribute more. If we’re talking about marketing a new product and I’m a product marketer then I’m definitely more interested. And If I have gone through this process (having suggested a new product that is now in development) then I really will up my interest in this new product idea. I just have a lot of empathy for the current ideators.
8. We have to be cautious when allowing the collaborators to pile on too much to any one idea. Simplicity has real value to the crowd, while bundling appeals to the average contributor. So while one team mate wants to add an additional piece to the package, everyone else will think less of this enhancement than they felt about the originally proposed, streamlined idea. This is the Peril of Added Value. Evaluators often adopt a holistic perspective that averages the value of components. People choose to bundle things yet that can be worth less.
Despite these potential pitfalls that result from human nature, the collaborative process is still a very reliable form of predicting which ideas are best. It is through this synthesis that we start to come to agreement. The “crowd” in crowd sourcing is more reliable than any one given expert. In fact beware analysts who claim to have all the answers. This new data from collaborative processes yields new trends, new ways, and reliable progressive steps that are more systematic.
With the underlying social network platform that the very best idea management systems rest upon, we can mine vast amounts of information. We can take advantage of the current explosion of personal data, and the results of people who volunteer information.
So instead of counting on one expert; instead of putting too much faith in people’s tendency to make rational decisions…. If you ask enough people, their collective wisdom will average out to something closer to true than any one of them could have provided on his or her own. The idea management system, this collaborative environment for all your smart people, is the most modern version of a “high-tech poll”.
Controlled Chaos is the Key
Management of the process is key. The “crowd” needs to be led through the various steps in the process. For instance, the process can be set up in phases:
- Now let’s just collect ideas.
- Then let’s all focus on which ones are best.
- Finally let’s put meat on the bones of the very best of the ideas by doing some deep dive analysis.
This is especially important when there is a moment in time where some values take a back seat to others. At first value is important, then price, then value again. Don’t bother asking for feedback on one aspect of an idea when everyone is geared up to talk about a different aspect of the problem.
There is real value in the wisdom of the crowd. Human nature may artificially spike the group’s efforts into a misguided direction periodically during the process, but active innovation managers can keep the team members on track. The goal is to encourage chaotic contributions while putting limits to how far they can stray: Controlled Chaos Using Crowdsourcing will enable your company to take advantage of reliable high tech polling of the future.
For more information on topics covered in this blog, please note my source material: Gino, Desai, “Memory Lane and Morality”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Schlenker, “Conservatives are Happier than Liberals”, Journal of Research in Personality Larson & Hamilton, “When Budgeting Backfires”, Journal of Marketing Research Olivola, Shafir, “The Martyrdom Effect”, Journal of Behavioral Decision Making Weaver, “The Presenter’s Paradox, Journal of Consumer Research Fast, et al “Power and Overconfident Decision Making”, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes Laham, S. et al, “The Name-Pronunciation Effect, Journal of Experimental Psychology Wilson, Wake Forest University, “Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck”
image credit: newgeography.com
Ron Shulkin is Vice President of Sales for CogniStreamer, a collaborative innovation ecosystem relied on by innovative companies all over the world. Ron’s career has focused on assisting large companies use enterprise software to achieve their business goals.