16 metrics for tracking Collaborative Innovation performance

In a recent PwC survey, 61% of CEOs said innovation was a key priority for their company (pdf). The only surprising result there is that it wasn’t 100%. Innovation efforts come in a variety of forms: innovation and design labs, jobs-to-be-done analysis, corporate venturing, distributed employee experiments, open innovation, TRIZ, etc.

In this post, I want to focus on another type of innovation initiative: Collaborative Innovation. A good way to think about Collaborative Innovation is that it integrates social and crowdsourcing principles:

Collaborative innovation - social and crowdsourcing


A definition I use for this approach:

Collaborative Innovation is defined as activities organizations use to improve their rates of innovation and problem solving by more effectively leveraging the diverse ideas and insights of employees, customers and partners.

While it seems straightforward, Collaborative Innovation is actually a fairly sophisticated activity. People with a cursory understanding say all you need to do is: (i) stand up an ideas portal; (ii) let people post ideas; (iii) collect votes on those ideas; and (iv) pick the winners.

Unfortunately, that’s just plain wrong. I’ve seen too many cases where organizations launch idea portals, only to see them die off six months later. The practice of Collaborative Innovation is a rich realm, with solid results for those who apply it thoughtfully.

This post is a look at several key metrics that corporate innovation teams should focus on as they lead Collaborative Innovation programs. The metrics are segmented by the different phases of innovation:

  1. Sourcing
  2. Decisioning
  3. Acting

The metrics below rest on two key assumptions: use of an innovation management software platform; use of campaigns to target innovation efforts.


Sourcing refers to the generation of ideas, as well as eliciting others’ insights about an idea.

Phase objectives

  • Distinct, differentiated ideas
  • Ideas matching needs of customers (incl. internal customers)
  • Ideas matching the innovation appetite of the organization
  • Capturing the cognitive diversity of participants
  • Growing the culture of innovation


Metric Description Why
Trend in unique logins Measure the ratio of logins/invited over time for multiple campaigns. Want to see a rise over time until reaching a steady state (~60%).
  • No logins, no ideas
  • Confirm that the credibility of program increasing
  • Demonstrate better targeting of relevant innovation topics
Trend in multiple logins Determine the number of people who log in to each campaign 3 times or more. Divide these multi-login people by the total number of people logging in to each campaign. Look for increasing ratios over time.
  • Returning to a campaign repeatedly is a measure of engagement
  • More repeat logins increases opportunities for collaboration
Ratio of ideators to unique logins Divide the number of people who post at least one idea by the number of unique logins. Want to see a rise over time until reaching a steady state (10 – 15%).
  • Ensure those with valuable ideas are being invited
  • Track whether the campaign questions are accessible to those invited
  • Confirm credibility of the program is increasing
Average number comments per idea Divide the number of comments by the number of ideas, per campaign. Target an average of 2 comments per idea.
  • Ideas are the start, but need others’ insights to evolve and grow
  • Track the collaboration culture of the organization, and of specific org units
  • Ensure participants understand that more than ideas are desired
Average number of replies per comment Divide the number of comment replies by the number of comments. Target an average of 0.5 replies per comment.
  • Innovation dialogues are healthy for both ideas and the organization’s innovation culture
  • Sharing of insights among employees is a second level objective, and this helps track that
Average number of votes per idea Divide the number of votes by the number of ideas, per campaign. Target an average of 3 votes per idea.
  • Participants can help identify ideas with greater potential
  • Ensure the voice of the community is captured, to complement the views of experts and campaign sponsors
Unique org units | departments | locations contributing Count the number of different org units, departments and/or locations with at least one person posting an idea, posting a comment or voting. This count needs to be considered against the number of org units, departments or locations invited.
  • Cognitive diversity is a key driver of value
  • Seek inputs from people who normally aren’t working closely together, to ensure different perspectives are brought into the campaign


Decisioning refers to identifying which ideas move forward for next steps. This phase is the bridge between getting a lot of different ideas, and determining which ones will be acted on.

Phase objectives

  • Identify ideas presenting enough possibility to warrant further review
  • Acknowledge value of community’s perspective
  • Timely assessments of ideas


Metric Description Why
Ratio of ideas selected for further review Some number of ideas submitted for each campaign will be selected for the next round of review. Calculate the ratio of selected ideas to total ideas submitted. Watch how this ratio changes over time.
  • Track whether campaigns are generating the level of possibilities expected
  • Look for cases of being overly pessimistic on ideas’ possibilities (too-low or declining ratio over time)
Ratio of top 5 voted/commented ideas selected for further review Of the ideas that were the top 5 for either votes or number of unique commenters, track how many were selected for further review.
  • When the community is invited to comment and vote, they have a natural expectation that their interactions will be part of the decision calculus
  • Failure to regularly consider what the community coalesces around will reduce enthusiasm to participate
Percentage of initially reviewed ideas sent back for iteration & information Of the ideas that were selected for further assessment, track the number where the idea submitter (and team) are asked to iterate the idea and/or provide more information.
  • Ideas rarely have enough “meat” on their initial sourcing, and benefit from further development
  • Watch out for too conservative a mindset by those making decisions on ideas; are they too quick to say ‘no’ without seeking more information?
Time to complete decisions Measure the time between selection of ideas for further review and selection of ideas to move forward into the Acting phase. The time will vary by the level of risk attendant to a campaign.
  • Participants will have a reasonable expectation that promising ideas move forward; delays signal a lack of commitment
  • From the world of finance, the time value of money argues for moving sooner rather than later on ideas with value
Ratio of reviewed ideas that advance to Acting phase Divide the number of ideas selected to move into the Acting phase by the number of ideas selected for review. Watch this ratio over time.
  • Moving ideas forward to action is core to developing an innovation culture; ensure this key step is occurring as expected
  • Too-low or declining ratios indicate a breakdown in the innovation process
  • Ideas that move forward are critical for ensuring the credibility of the innovation effort


Acting refers to the activities to prove out an idea, develop it and prepare it for full launch. Or to learn why an idea won’t be feasible, ultimately.

Phase objectives

  • Develop deeper understanding for whether the idea passes the three jobs-to-be-done tests that determine market adoption
  • Optimize features that best deliver on the outcomes that the idea’s targeted beneficiaries have
  • Maximize the probability of success by eliminating ideas that just aren’t working


Metric Description Why
Average number of experiments per idea Tally the total number of experiments for a “class” of selected ideas for Acting phase, calculate the average per idea.
  • Because of the inherent risk of trying something new, many ideas need different looks
  • Learning mentality to understand an idea’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Valuable for establishing a strong innovation culture for the organization
Time to make final decision on selected ideas Track the amount of time between the decision to put an idea into the Acting phase, and the decision whether to pursue the idea at scale.
  • While this process shouldn’t be rushed, it should be treated with appropriate diligence
  • Participants will expect final decisions; failure to do so undermines the program credibility
Ratio of ideas selected for full launch Divide the number of ideas selected for full launch by the number of ideas selected for the Acting phase. Watch how this ratio tracks over time.
  • The determinant of success for this phase is the number of ideas that make to full launch
  • Ideas in this phase passed muster during the prior Deciding phase; the percentage that make it to full launch should be high
Projected and realized value of ideas that have been moved to full launch Aggregate projected and realized value of the ideas that will be or have been put into full launch.
  • The bottom line rationale for the innovation program
  • Critical for establishing credibility of the program with senior executives

The above list is solid foundation of metrics to track for your Collaborative Innovation program. It’s not exhaustive. And there are likely elements for each phase that will vary for each organization.

But these are good for watching how your program is tracking. Behind each metric, there are techniques to enhance outcomes. The key is knowing where to look.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

10 examples that show the value of cognitive diversity

In a previous post, the benefits of crowdsourcing were described as follows:

When trying to solve a challenge, what is the probability that any one person will have the best solution for it? It’s a simple mathematical reality: the odds of any single person providing the top answer are low.

How do we get around this? Partly by more participants; increased shots on goal. But even more important is diversity of thinking. People contributing based on their diverse cognitive toolkits

Cognitive diversity is a vital contributor to innovation. Bringing together people who have different expertise, heuristics and perspectives to solve problems has shown value time and again.  Professor Scott Page’s The Difference is a terrific book outlining the frameworks and value of cognitive diversity.

I thought it would be useful to collect some cases that highlight the value of cognitive diversity. The theories are powerful, but we respond strongly to specific examples. Collected below are ten cases of where cognitive diversity has shown its value. Feel free to use them for your own work as needed.


1. The mystery of our kidney tubules

Problem: Human kidneys have tubules. For years, they were assumed to be leftover, useless artifacts of our natural evolution. Hence physiologists assumed they had no purpose. Meaning their care and study could be safely ignored.

How diversity helped: One day, an engineer looked at the loops. He saw something different. He realized they were actually part of something called a countercurrent multiplier. These mechanisms concentrate liquids in a system. Suddenly, tubules were no longer evolution’s leftover junk. They were seen for what they were: vital parts of our kidneys’ operations.

An engineer with no special biological expertise saw things in a total different way.

Reference: Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking: An Introduction


2. Why this particular pathology in a drug discovery trial?

Problem: A pharmaceutical company’s R&D group was conducting a discovery study for a new drug. They couldn’t understand the toxicological significance of a particular observed pathology. They consulted with multiple experts in toxicology, but none could answer the question.

How diversity helped: The pharma firm then ran a crowdsourcing campaign, and within a few the mystery was solved. The solver? A woman with a PhD in protein crystallography using methods common in her field. An area unrelated to toxicology.

The woman with the PhD brought a completely different perspective to solving the problem.

Reference: Harvard Business School, et al study, The Value of Openness in Scientific Problem Solving (page 11 pdf)


3. Who has a higher probability to solve a problem?

Problem: People with expertise in a particular domain are challenged to provide workable solutions to tough problems. But these are the ones we regularly turn to for help.

How diversity helped: Researchers analyzed the outcomes of InnoCentive’s crowdsourcing challenges. What they found was surprising. For each challenge, they identified the domain of the problem. They then looked at the winning solvers. What were their domains of expertise? They found that people whose domain of expertise was six degrees away from the domain of the problem were three times likelier to solve the problem.

Getting people who are outside the domain of the problem provides higher odds of finding the best solution to a problem.

Reference: Harvard Business School, et al study, The Value of Openness in Scientific Problem Solving (page 24 pdf)


4. Stop new diamond fractures from happening

Problem: In the process of cutting diamonds, new fractures are introduced into the diamond. These fractures don’t show up until the diamond is in use. Manufacturers wanted to split diamonds along their natural fractures without creating new ones. But didn’t know how.

How diversity helped: This is a case of investigators consciously looking at different realms to find a solution, applying the TRIZ method. The solution came in an area quite different than diamonds: green peppers. Food companies need to split the peppers and remove their seeds. Peppers are placed in a chamber to which air pressure is increased significantly. The peppers shrink and fracture at the stem. Then the pressure is rapidly dropped causing them to burst at the weakest point and the seed pod to be ejected. A similar technique applied to diamond cutting resulted in the crystals splitting along their natural fracture lines with no additional damage.

This is an example of consciously seeking solutions outside the domain of the problem. Which is the crux of cognitive diversity.

Reference: QFD Institute, TRIZ workshop


5. Reducing surgery infections

Problem: Surgery exposes patients to infections, even with all the efforts to maintain a clean surgical environment. Reducing these infections would result in better outcomes for patients.

How diversity helped: 3M brought together people from three different areas: an expert in wound healing; an animal surgeon; and a specialist in theatrical makeup with expertise in adhering materials to skin. They developed a breakthrough product to prevent surgical infections.

While the wound specialist is consistent with what we’d expect, the makeup artist inclusion was quite different. She brought a particular expertise that turned out to be relevant to solving the problem.

Reference: Eric von Hippel, et al, Performance Assessment of the Lead User Idea Generation Process (pdf)


6. How to really help the homeless?

Problem: Homelessness has proven to be an intractable, chronic issue for cities. Municipalities spend money on treatment, overnight shelter, food. But the issue has vexed city officials everywhere.

How diversity helped: Sam Tsemberis is a psychologist. His training was to treat the mental health of people. He took a job to treat homeless people in the early 1990s. Not to solve homelessness, with its complex set of causes. Just to treat individuals, which fit his expertise. However, he saw things differently with the homeless. They operated in a set of complex circumstances. He felt the dominant thinking of experts in the homeless field was wrong, that homeless people are quite resourceful.

Lacking any prior experience in solving the homeless issue, Tsemberis assembled a team of people who also lacked any experience in addressing homelessness at scale. One was a recovering heroin addict. Another was a formerly homeless person. Another was a psychologist. And the last, Hilary Melton, was a poet and a survivor of incest.

Their solution? Giving permanent housing to the homeless. And it has proven remarkably successful thus far. Utah employed the method, and eliminated homelessness. Phoenix applied it and eliminated chronic homelessness among veterans.

Fresh eyes came up with a solution that challenged the dominant thinking in the field.

Reference: Washington Post, Meet the outsider who accidentally solved chronic homelessness


7. Predicting solar particle storms

Problem: When in space, astronauts are at risk from solar particle storms. Knowing when these storms are going to happen is important for their safety. However, NASA had spent 30 years unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to predict these storms.

How diversity helped: NASA cast a challenge on InnoCentive, exposing the problem to much broader types of expertise. And they received a solution much better than anything they had ever developed. A retired telecommunications engineer in New Hampshire saw the issue as one involved magnetic coupling between the sun and the Earth.

The solver was not in the space field. He had no connection to NASA. He was located far from NASA operations. His fresh perspective brought new insight to the problem.

Reference: Forbes India, The importance of diversity of thought for solving wicked problems


8. Who starts billion dollar companies?

Problem: What is the ‘look’ of success in start-ups? Certainly understanding these characteristics could go a long way toward identifying promising ventures.

How diversity helped: Shasta Ventures ran an analysis of 32 companies that are high flyers, including Uber, Twitter, Dropbox, Twitch, etc. They looked at the companies way back when they were raising their Series A. They found a few different traits. One that stands out:

Three-out-of-four of the companies in our survey were built and run by people who were doing it for the first time. They did not have a win under their belt or deep experience in their field, but were passionate about their product and had a unique perspective on how to serve their target customer. Having a fresh perspective is important in tackling a category as people with industry experience are often constrained by what is ‘not possible’ and why it ‘won’t work’.

Shasta notes here what others have found. People get stuck in knowing what they know. Innovation benefits from fresh perspectives.

Reference: Tod Francis, Shasta Ventures, What did Billion Dollar Companies Look Like at the Series A?


9. Stopping a key enzyme that powers the AIDS virus

Problem: For a decade, scientists have tried to understand the structure of an enzyme that is critical to reproduction of the AIDS virus. If they could finally figure out the structure, that would allow them to develop drugs to fight AIDS.

How diversity helped: Researchers added the AIDS reproduction enzyme structure to the online game FoldIt. In FoldIt, players try their hand at folding various proteins. Proteins are core building blocks, and they fold in very specific ways. Scientists have a hard time replicating the folding sequence; researchers started FoldIt to see how amateurs could do at replicating the folding.

In this case, insights about the enzyme’s folding were provided by FoldIt gamers (not scientific experts) within three weeks. Their strategies were instrumental in helping scientists to understand the enzyme, and initiate work to neutralize it.

Reference: Scientific American, Foldit Gamers Solve Riddle of HIV Enzyme within 3 Weeks


10. Auto-Tune to…ahem…enhance recordings

Problem: Music producers spent significant time putting together music from multiple takes. The process was laborious, but needed to ensure high quality recordings for release. Humans inevitably had inconsistencies, either in voice or instruments.

How diversity helped: Exxon engineer Andy Hildebrand had spent 18 years working in seismic data exploration. He developed a technique using a mathematical model called autocorrelation. His approach involved sending sound waves into the ground and then recording their reflections.

It turns out autocorrelation is also good for detecting pitch in music as well. Hildebrand, who had taken some music classes, recognized an opportunity to improve the quality of music. He introduced Auto-Tune to the industry. And the rest is history.

In this case, knowledge from one industry – oil exploration – was applied to an entirely different field – music. The cognitive diversity was a conscious application of expertise from one realm to another.

Reference: New Yorker Magazine, The Gerbil’s Revenge


While the most natural human tendency is to depend on those we know with expertise in a given, the preceding examples show the value of getting fresh perspectives. When everyone “knows what we know”, it’s time to expand your options.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Talk-n-Tweet | Collaborative Innovation at Scale

Previously, I’ve described Why Crowdsourcing Works. Crowdsourcing is a case where you get many people who don’t one another collaborating toward a defined outcome.Talk-n-Tweet Collaborative Innovation at ScaleTo reiterate the principle points about the value of crowdsourcing:

  • Diverse inputs drive superior solutions
  • Cognitive diversity requires spanning gaps in social networks

Simple enough, yet actually a rich field for work and analysis. To that end, I invite to two events happening simultaneously on Thursday 25 September 2014 (12 noon Eastern):

  • LeAnna Carey’s radio show (link)
  • Twitter Innochat (link)

I’ll be on the radio show talking with Lea Carey, Renee Hopkins and John Lewis. At the same time, the weekly #innochat will follow along with the radio program. It’s a unique chance to blend live conversation with online discussion. The main questions to be tackled will be:

  1. How important is it to get diverse people to contribute to innovation, vs. singular creatives to generate innovations?
    • Doesn’t Steve Jobs point to the primacy of singular genius?
    • What is the model for cognitive diversity to generate innovation outcomes?
  2. What differentiates sharing in large groups vs. small teams?
    • How much does familiarity mean trust?
    • How to handle different personalities that will intersect?
  3. In environments where employee skepticism reigns, how do you change attitudes to open up sharing?
    • What are the ways in which skepticism can creep in?
    • What is the #1 issue that must be addressed?
  4. What are motivations for employees to contribute to an innovation program?
    • How much does “what’s in it for me?” come into play?
    • What are the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations?
  5. What techniques help drive participation in crowdsourced innovation programs?
    • What influence do senior executives have?
    • What influence does peer participation have?
    • How can gamification drive greater participation?

As a reminder, the event time across time zones:

Thursday 25 September 2014
9 am Pacific
12 noon Eastern
6 pm Central European Time

I look forward to hearing your take on this issue.

Positive Deviance vs. Best Practices

Over time, I’ve seen people write disparagingly about the use of best practices in innovation. A recent example of this comes from Paul Martin in Say ‘Best Practice’ again, I dare you. As Paul notes:

For me the term ‘Best Practice’ conjures up images of a race toward uniform mediocrity, led by those who follow the crowd.

I understand his position. It’s a version of fast-following in a way, where people do not take a fresh look at an activity. They just follow what others are doing. You may share his passion for banishing ‘best practices’. Although be careful there. Some things really don’t need innovation if they’re not critical to a company’s differentiation and growth. For instance, if there are best practices for closing the accounting books on a quarterly basis, what issue of mediocrity is there?

The issue with best practices appears to be:

  • It’s done by an organization with which you compete
  • It propagates the status quo rather than break new ground
  • It doesn’t differentiate you, so why would you do just do what everyone else does?

There is a form of “best practices” that doesn’t violate the above. It’s called positive deviance.  Positive deviants are people who deviate from the norm and achieve superior results for an activity. They don’t have access to different resources than others. They just do things differently. A great example comes from Vietnam. The Save the Children organization wanted to address the pervasive malnourishment of children. In conducting field research, they came across families that had very healthy children. What were they doing differently? They fed their children the crabs and shrimp that were around their village. These protein-rich animals were available everywhere, but were disdained as trash, not worthy of consumption. Yet, these same disdainers had children who were malnourished.

Best practices indeed!

The point here is that positive deviance is a form of best practice that is:

  • Emergent
  • Based on experimentation
  • Consistent with internal community norms and context

While best practices may come from consultants and media coverage, positive deviance is more localized. And it’s often hidden. People aren’t openly talking about what they’re doing different. I liken this to William Gibson’s famous observation:

The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.

Why not change that? In my post, Beyond Ideation: Four Fresh Ways to Generate Innovation, I talk about running campaigns for four different types of insight:

  1. Challenge orthodoxy
  2. What’s working (i.e. positive deviance)
  3. Problem-sourcing
  4. Trendscouting

These are different ways to use crowdsourcing beyond the normal ideation use case. Including finding your positive deviants.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter, and I’m a Senior Consultant with HYPE Innovation.


Consultant-Led Innovation

Finally, remember Innovation won’t come from plans or people outside your company – it will be found in the people you already have inside who understand your company’s strengths and its vulnerabilities.

Steve Blank, Esade Business School Commencement Speech

I think Steve Blank – well-respected thinker on innovation and entrepreneurship – has hit a key point in his speech. A company’s employees are exactly the right people to enlist in innovation efforts. Here are the qualities that make employees uniquely qualified:

  • Deep knowledge about customers
  • Understanding why customers leave
  • Strong interest in the company’s future
  • Internal informal networks to move things forward
  • Vast reservoir of existing ideas and insight about future possibilities

Organizations are starting to take these amazing attributes seriously as they think about innovation. I’ve seen some forward-thinking organizations involving employees in the process of moving forward. But not all, certainly not a majority yet. For many senior executives, consultants are still the preferred means to think about and design the future.

Consulting’s impact on employees

In my history, I’ve seen how consulting has been used in organizations, as an employee, a consultant and an observer. I sort the types of consulting into three levels of a pyramid:

Consulting stack


The bottom level is consulting around specific functions.  Towers Watson, for instance, focuses on HR and financial issues. This consulting is helpful in bringing new information to the employees in these functions. Consultants here see a lot of what works, and what doesn’t. With both their expertise and experience, they make people smarter in the core supporting functions of organizations.

The middle level is more about enablement across different groups. This consulting brings new philosophies and frameworks to employees. It enhances people’s ability to think about addressing the key strategic factors that impact the business. My own work consulting on crowdsourced innovation is one such example. Consulting firm Deloitte offers Lean Six Sigma consulting. This level of the consulting pyramid works in concert with what motivates employees and helps them be better in their jobs.

The top level is best characterized as strategy consulting. These firms (e.g. McKinsey) look at a company, its assets and its markets, and design a future path for the organization. This can include new markets to go after, expanding in existing markets, new products to offer and new business models. This is what I call Consultant-Led Innovation. It is actually really valuable, but can also result in demoralizing employees.

Do outsiders really know better?

I’ll relate my own experience here, see if it resonates with you. When I was at Pay By Touch, the CEO decided to bring in a well-known consulting firm. Their mandate was to examine the payments market and determine how Pay By Touch should tackle it. After doing their research and executive interviews, they came up with a strategy for pricing, and new products for a biometric wallet. I remember attending their presentation to a packed room of employees. The room was packed because it felt like the CEO was going to go with their recommendations, and people wanted to know what the consultants were thinking.

After seeing the presentation, the collective employee reaction? Meh. It suffered from two issues. First, it wasn’t anything that hadn’t been part of the discussion internally. Second, it had some fundamental flaws that people who’d been working on the edge of the evolving payment industry would have known. Unsurprisingly, their recommendations went to the shelf without further action.

But that experience always left me with a bad taste. Why didn’t the CEO call on his own people to do this strategic thinking? He’d hired smart people who knew credit cards, ACH, point-of-sale systems, etc. People who joined the company to change the way we pay. But instead of leveraging that, he brought in the consultants.

Outside consultants aren’t going to know your business – customers, markets, competitors, products – better than your employees.

Diverse perspectives and who is motivated most

I’ve written previously about how valuable cognitive diversity is. And the strategy consultants do add to that cognitive diversity. They have smart people who bring strong analytic perspectives to your business. The problem arises when their perspectives, their voices are the dominant basis of thinking for the C-Suite.

It’s an in-your-face dismissal of your “most valuable asset”, your employees.

Dilbert - employees are our most important asset

Via Dilbert.com

As I’ve described previously, the key to successfully engaging employees and having them help lead the company’s innovation is for senior executives to set a course forward and ensure that innovation obstacles don’t stifle progress. Strategy consultants actually can be useful here, in that they can help an executive crystallize thinking about the future. After that, enlightened organizations know their employees have the smarts, knowledge and motivation to work out the future. And better than some strategy inserted from outside, when employees help determine the organization’s future, their enthusiasm and energy will be critical to achieving the outcomes expected.

Don’t rely on consultant-led innovation. Make sure you’re building through the amazing cognitive diversity and energy of your employees.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter, and yes, I’m a Senior Consultant with HYPE Innovation.


Four categories of enterprise gamification

When you think of gamification, what are the common things that come to mind? Points, badges, leaderboards. These items are in the cognitive toolkit. But looking at the sheer variety of game mechanics, you can see that’s it’s a much broader field than that:

Game mechanics list

These 48 different mechanics (via SCVNGR and Badgeville) aren’t the complete list, but they provide a sense for the possibilities. However, the quantity of game mechanics makes its difficult to coherently analyze what, if any, means are relevant for an initiative. I found myself facing that in some work I was preparing for a client. My job-to-be-done? Provide an accessible way to understand the different gamification techniques relevant to crowdsourced innovation.

Having done some gamification work previously as a product manager, I called on that experience and various research on the topic. The following are the categories that made sense to me in the context of the enterprise environment:

Gamification categories

You might notice that I’ve couched the descriptive statement of each in the first person. That fits the approach to gamification, which is about motivations of individuals, what matters to each of us. Here’s a bit more about each.

Achievement: I work to attain an objective. This category calls on the desire many of us for mastery. To be well-versed and proficient in something. There is a sort of competition, but it’s against a standard, a benchmark. Not others.

Recognition: My contribution is acknowledged. Recognition is a form of feedback, an affirmation of one’s capabilities or position and a manifestation of status among peers. Recognition strikes me as the most powerful form of motivation.

Competition:  I compete for a limited number of awards. These gamification techniques appeal to the desire to compete. They can elevate people to moments of excellence in their participation (think of sports you’ve participated in previously). Powerful when used in an appropriate context.  But it’s a category that needs to be treated with care. Clumsy implementation of competition gamification can poison an initiative.

Valuables: I want to secure something of value. Valuables can address avoiding the loss of something or gaining something new. Valuables include the things you might expect: points-based rewards systems. But they can include countdowns to do something (I need to do something before I lose the opportunity), or competition to win funding for an idea, for example. Very useful, but Valuables need to be handled with care to avoid unintended consequences (e.g. high volumes of low value contributions; mindset that participation only happens when there’s a reward).

I’ve applied these different gamification categories to different innovation scenarios in my new post: The gamification framework for business innovation. I also look at the purpose of gamification there, some common misperceptions about it, and five key design principles.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter, and I’m a Senior Consultant with HYPE Innovation.

How deep does crowdsourced problem-solving go?

On the recent post, Why crowdsourcing works, Michael Fruhling of BFS Innovations asked:

A couple of related questions: for most current crowd sourced problem solving endeavors, how “deep” does the problem solving routinely go? And do the results meaningfully change if incentives are introduced?

It was a good, thoughtful question. I answered it in the comments there, and wanted to make the answer into its own blog post, below.

Tim O'Reilly tweet on crowdsourcingThe depth of the problem-solving in a crowdsourcing endeavor is wholly dependent on:

  • The question that is asked
  • The engagement of the question sponsor
  • Who is asked to participate
  • Why people would want to participate

A few points on each of those factors.

Question that is asked

As you can imagine, the question impacts the depth of problem-solving. In-depth question = in-depth problem-solving. The more specific the question, the better the quality of people’s contributions. “Specific” here doesn’t mean asking a tactical, low-level question. Rather, it means clearly delineating what is sought in a way that people can relate to .

Engagement of the question sponsor

Crowdsourcing works best (obviously?) when solving a specific problem that someone has. People will respond to the question with different concepts and questions. The feedback of the question asker (aka “sponsor”) provides the back-n-forth that breaks through initial responses to build a deeper response.

Who is asked to participate

Getting cognitive diversity is the key, as described in the post. But also, you want people who have some connection and interest in the question. Think holistically about that. Upstream, downstream, adjacent fields. Problem-solving depth requires matching a question with people who will give a damn.

Why people would want to participate

The question of “why” is closely related to the preceding question of “who”. If a question’s answer potentially affects a person, there is built-in motivation to participate: steer things in a way that makes sense to you. This works well for internal employee-based crowdsourcing. However, there are certainly questions where the personal impact may be less acute. Other incentives come in to play. Engagement with a sponsor – with attendant acknowledgments, thank you’s, feedback – are great incentives. Opportunities to see an idea through is a powerful stimulant. And prizes have great power. Prizes work best when they establish an opportunity to see an idea one is passionate about become real (e.g. investment funds). Or when the question is not one that directly impacts you. In such a case, they are compensation for putting your brainpower to work problem-solving.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter, and I’m a Senior Consultant with HYPE Innovation.


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