This article is the first of a four-part series focused on how top enterprises are using crowdsourcing to drive continuous innovation and employee engagement. Learn more about crowdsourced innovation programs in the free ebook Innovating at Scale with Crowdsourcing: Five Steps to go from Ideas to Apps.
“We all can’t be Google.”
If you’ve ever attended a conference focused on enterprise innovation, you’ve likely heard it said by both presenters and fellow attendees. But while it’s true that Google has certain advantages when it comes to innovation, they’ve publicly shared the core innovation principles that have helped them achieve their well-deserved reputation. A recent Huffington Post article summarized these principles and explained Google’s philosophy:
Google’s “recipe” for driving innovation is no carefully guarded secret sauce. Rather, Google has openly shared this information with the public. In 2013, Google codified a new set of “Nine Principles of Innovation,” which updated the version first unveiled by former Google executive Marissa Mayer in 2008.
Google’s principles provide a great roadmap for anyone striving to be more innovative. But for organizations not named Google, time and resource constraints often get in the way of even the best laid innovation plans. That’s where crowdsourcing comes in. Let’s take a look at Google’s nine innovation principles and how crowdsourcing can help you live them.
Principle 1: Innovation comes from anywhere
At Google, this principle emphasizes that innovation is in nobody’s job title, but is everyone’s responsibility. Moreover, ideas can come from anyone in the organization, regardless if they are top-level executives, employees who work in roles or departments not typically associated with innovation, or employees on the “bottom” of the company’s totem pole.
Your employees have great ideas for apps and digital services that can move your business forward, capture new revenue streams, and deliver efficiencies. What if you could quickly turn the best of these ideas into working solutions without diverting internal resources from critical projects?
Crowdsourced Innovation Programs in the Topcoder Marketplace let individual or teams of employees rapidly turn funded business ideas into crowdsourcing challenges to develop application wireframes, UI/UX designs, clickable prototypes, and solution MVPs—all in a matter of weeks. Empowering internal innovators (aka intraprenuers) to build on winning ideas through crowdsourcing not only gives you more solutions to test and evaluate, but also creates a more engaged workforce.
Good ideas are everywhere in your organization. With a crowdsourced innovation program you can gather, vet, and build on these ideas to produce working solutions you can evaluate.
Principle 2: Focus on the user
A long-standing Google principle is that the company encourages its employees to build products with the user, not profits, in mind. By doing this, Gopi Kallayil, Google’s Chief Evangelist for Brand Marketing, said “revenue issues take care of themselves.”
Not only does crowdsourcing let you quickly move top app ideas from whiteboards and PowerPoint to real solutions, but for each idea you get multiple UI/UX submissions from the Topcoder Community to choose from. Idea owners can experience their app from different perspectives, uncover new approaches, and explore different scenarios, all of which can lead to a better user experience.
A top NYC brand agency used crowdsourcing for exactly this reason—generating multiple design options and honing in on the best user experience. As highlighted in the video below, this crowdsourcing challenge in the Topcoder Marketplace resulted in 18 unique application designs, helping their team deliver a winning solution for the customer.
Principle 3: Think 10x, not 10 percent
This Google principle is about striving to improve something by a tenfold difference rather than just improving it by ten percent. In other words, making a revolutionary change rather than an evolutionary change.
Google clearly sets its sights on innovation that brings about big changes, but a more incremental approach can be right for many organizations. As explained in the Huffington Post article linked above, “innovation doesn’t always have to be about reinventing the wheel, it can also be about simply improving the wheel.” Every organization is unique, so setting your program innovation goals is an important step zero.
Whether you’re aiming to change the world or improve specific processes within your organization, a crowdsourced innovation program can multiply your number of innovation attempts by a factor of five or even ten. For example, HPE’s Living Progress Challenge sourced hundreds of innovative ideas for apps that can improve millions of lives. HPE vetted the ideas and partnered with Topcoder to run an Appathon, an Innovation Program that brought 17 top ideas through wireframing, design, and prototype development in just 12 weeks.
With a traditional development approach, HPE would have likely been limited to building just a few solution prototypes or proof-of-concepts in that same timeframe. Crowdsourcing enabled them to innovate at enterprise scale, which is one of the reasons Topcoder was named the 29th most exponential organization on the planet.
Principle 4: Bet on technical insights
Every organization has its unique insights—and betting on these unique insights can lead to major innovation. It was Google—not the automotive industry—that came up with the idea of the self-driving car. Google was able to make this major innovation because they already had the unique insights and building blocks in place to engineer a self-driving car.
As technology opens new opportunities to apply your subject matter expertise (or “technical insights” as Google puts it), you need to act incredibly fast in order to capture new markets and users. But few companies have the ability to quickly apply their insights to a near-field or out-of-field domain and develop innovative new solutions.
Brivo, a Topcoder customer that focuses on software-based enterprise security products for the physical world, wanted to use their unique insights to create new IoT-based products that enhance their enterprise offerings. But without the technical team to build things like an IoT API and a suite of reference applications, Brivo needed to innovate in a non-traditional manner. They accessed the needed talent through a series of IoT crowdsourcing challenges, shrinking their delivery timeline and getting to market a full year ahead of plan.
Principle 5: Ship and iterate
This innovation principle is the updated version of former Google executive Marissa Mayer’s 2008 “innovation, not instant perfection” innovation principle. “Ship and iterate” means to take your products to market early and often rather than waiting until they’re absolutely perfect.
This principle is all about the speed at which you produce prototypes and MVPs as well as the volume of solutions you can evaluate over a certain stretch of time. In science you might describe this momentum as p = mv, or momentum = mass x velocity, so we like to think of “innovation momentum” as the volume of ideas you’re building upon multiplied by your execution velocity.
You can only ship and then iterate successfully if your innovation momentum is at a high level. Organizations both large and small use crowdsourcing to create and evaluate a much greater number of prototypes and MVPs, thus productizing more solutions faster. This in turn leads to rapid iterations and improvements based on user feedback.
Principle 6: Twenty percent time
Twenty percent time refers to Google’s long standing principle where employees are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their work time pursuing projects they are passionate about, even if these projects are outside the scope of their job description or the company’s core mission. If you give your employees this twenty percent time, Kallayil promises that “They will delight you with their creative thinking.”
Twenty percent time might not be achievable in your organization, but lack of time typically isn’t the only obstacle to innovation. At a company like Google, employees can mingle in the hallway with UX design experts or top algorithmists who can help them move an idea forward that same day. That just isn’t the reality for employees at most organizations.
However, the reason Google employs the principle in the first place is that they know impassioned employees are successful, productive, and more likely to stay with the company for the long run. And of course the twenty percent time principle also delivers results!
With a crowdsourced innovation program, your employees can create and innovate in a 20 percent-like manner—effectively and at scale. The consequences are simple, yet staggering.
- You’ll turn more ideas into products faster.
- Your workforce will be more engaged and productive.
- Your organization will be more attractive to next generation employees who gravitate to work environments that support open thinking and a culture of creation.
Principle 7: Default to open
Back in 2008, it was Marissa Mayer’s original goal to promote innovation at Google by sharing information on Google’s intranet and facilitating collaboration among Google employees. Now, the updated version of this principle incorporates Google pulling ideas from the general public. As Kallayil said, “There are seven billion people…. The smartest people will always be outside Google. By defaulting to open, we’re tapping into the creativity outside of Google.”
The philosophy of crowdsourcing—whether used internally in the enterprise or externally to include brand advocates, near-field specialists, or even the general public—professes that the top ideas, solutions, and talent to help you execute all reside outside your four walls.
This is commonly referred to as Joy’s law, because as Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy elegantly stated, “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” But in today’s ever surging on-demand economy, the smartest people may work for no one, yet be accessible to all.
Even Google sponsors Topcoder events and recognizes that top talent lies beyond their four walls, flourishing within global communities like Topcoder.
Principle 8: Fail well
Google believes that there should be no negativity or stigma attached with failing. According to Kallayil, failure at Google is a “badge of honor.” Moreover, Kallayil said, “There is a belief in the company that if you don’t fail often enough, you’re not trying hard enough.
Crowdsourcing enables both individuals and your organization as a whole to “fail well” more often. Not every idea that’s prototyped or developed into an MVP makes it to market, but ideas that fail benefit from the structured feedback process of your crowdsourced innovation program, and employees can iterate on failures and resubmit them for review during future cycles of innovation.
The key is that crowdsourcing substantially lowers the cost of each innovation attempt and allows individuals and organizations to dramatically increase the number of times they attempt to solve pressing problems. For example, consider how the U.S. Department of Energy created a crowdsourced innovation program that allowed their agency to first vet over 120 solar energy business ideas, and then rapidly prototype more than 15 application solutions in parallel within 14 weeks. Many proposed ideas failed, but without that failure their level of success would be substantially lower.
Don’t just preach a culture of failing fast. Provide a crowdsourced innovation program so your employees and organization can test ideas more often and succeed more frequently.
Principle 9: Have a mission that matters
This new principle for Google is, according to Kallayil, “the most important one.” Kallayil says, “Everybody at Google has a very strong sense of mission and purpose. We seriously believe that the work we do has a huge impact on millions of people in a positive way.”
Mission and purpose can come from both your organization and the unique interests and experiences of the individuals who contribute to your crowdsourced innovation program.
For organizations with a clear “mission that matters,” crowdsourcing can be a wonderful extension of that mission. For example, NASA partners with Topcoder on innovative data science and application development projects. Talented individuals from around the globe who would not otherwise have an opportunity to work on projects with a mission like NASA’s now can participate through crowdsourcing challenges and communities such as Topcoder.
Case study and infographic: NASA’s ISS-FIT – The First Crowdsourced App in Space!
Individuals can also bring a sense of purpose to your crowdsourced innovation program. For example, employees are inspired and energized when given an opportunity to work on projects they’re passionate about, and self-selection into projects is a tremendous catalyst for innovation. By giving your employees—and even external brand advocates—the ability to use crowdsourcing to execute on their ideas, your organization can realize tremendous productivity gains.
Whether innovators find purpose in your organization’s mission or by working on projects they truly care about, crowdsourcing is a perfect execution partner that emboldens people to push even farther.
Live the Innovation Principles with Crowdsourcing
We can’t all be Google, but that doesn’t change the importance of innovation—or limit your ability to generate and build on more ideas at scale. With a crowdsourced innovation program you can better engage your employees, customers, and brand advocates; develop and evaluate 5x or 10x more working solutions; and ultimately go-to-market with better apps and digital services.
To learn more and begin planning your own crowdsourced innovation program, download our free ebook: Innovating at Scale with Crowdsourcing: 5 Steps from Ideas to Apps