Beyond a contest for the “best idea”: A case of crowdsourcing through a brainstorming competition

Authored by Darin Eich, Ph. D., President, BrainReactions LLC

Open innovation is valuable because it can harness the perspectives, needs, and ideas of a large amount of individuals, whether they be current consumers of a product or potential users of a website. In order to innovate based on the perspectives of many people, a shift from acquiring the best idea to acquiring idea themes derived from hundreds of ideas from many users or consumers is needed. has just launched their first significant open innovation crowdsourcing effort in the form of a brainstorming competition where awards are offered not for the single best idea but for the top brainstormers. In the first few days of the competition there are 500 ideas from 60 different brainstormers. This competition is open for just under two weeks and closes on July 3rd, 2008. This specific competition offers an emerging case of crowdsourcing for the brainstorming purpose of generating multiple new ideas on the launch of a web application, including both marketing and feature development.

Idea Contest

This case offers an opportunity to learn about the process of crowdsourcing for brainstorming. This competition has already generated different outcomes than a traditional closed room in person brainstorming session offers or what a contest where “the best idea wins” offers. First, who is brainstorming? Notably there are more brainstormers than in your typical closed room session and they come with and a more global perspective. For this competition, brainstormers come from throughout the globe with heavy representation from the U.S. and the UK. Since most web applications have a global audience and seek the perspectives, needs, and ideas of a wide range of users, crowdsourcing through brainstorming offers unique advantages. Also, new web applications want an opportunity to generate buzz. The brainstorming competition allows this through the marketing of the idea contest while a closed room in-person brainstorm does not because it is more private in nature. The crowdsourcing offers residual benefits, not just the ideas gathered and the ability to validate the direction and decisions through the voice of the user but the marketing of the competition helps to build awareness and launch the web application.

Important consideration is given to what happens before and after the competition. Most of the time spent with preparing the competition actually involves framing the challenge, creating background information (in this instance a free web based video), and identifying questions for brainstormers to generate ideas on. This takes much thought amongst organizers and the client as well as multiple iterations to finalize the questions and background. Alerting the network of brainstormers to begin was the easiest part as BrainReactions has a large network of creative brainstormers who can be readily notified with an email. It also important to consider what the final product of the competition could look like. BrainReactions brainstorming has slightly different desired outcomes then other contests which seek to generate a best idea. Rather than a single best idea, the goal of the competition is to generate hundreds of ideas from many brainstormers so that ideas could be synthesized and analyzed. The themes that emerge amongst many ideas from multiple brainstormers are often times more valuable than a “best idea” and often marketing and product development directions move forward from these themes. After the competition a team of judges with different expertise bases will also spend time at the end to select the top brainstormers based on the quantity of good ideas they provide. Since a goal of brainstorming is to gather a large number of good ideas to synthesize and generate themes around, going beyond just selecting the best idea is needed. This is a current and emerging example of crowdsourcing meeting brainstorming on the web.

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