“We want top-line growth and to protect our bottom-line, and I need your ideas on how to make that happen!”

Crowdsourcing innovation works best when the crowd knows exactly what issue they’re trying to address. Although the statement above is a fictitious one, it’s not far away from what’s often said — or shouted — in boardrooms across the globe. The problem with this demand is that most people in the crowd have never even been inside the boardroom, and aren’t likely to be going there soon. And that means they don’t understand the phrases, jargon, and other language specific to the executives who practically live there.

Lost in Translation, Lost in the Crowd

Being multi-lingual isn’t a requirement for every role, but we often forget that there are always several dialects being used throughout an organisation (even if they’re technically in the same language). The standard tactic for dealing with being misunderstood is, of course, to keep talking, becoming louder and louder with each repetition. And although this can be an amusing distraction for onlookers, it usually ends in frustration (and more yelling) for all parties involved.

It’s the same dynamic between a leader and the crowd. There’s no point in repeating yourself if what you said wasn’t clear to begin with; you need to try a different approach. The people working for you operate in a variety of environments, and focus on goals and tasks specific to their role. If you want their ideas for solutions outside of their day-to-day scope, you’ll need to be prepared to explain what you want.

Asked and Answered: Crucial Crowdsourcing Questions

The phrase we like to use is “problem translation” — in other words, I need to understand your problem in order to help you solve it. Never assume that everyone will immediately understand your ask (or that they should). You must express what the problem is, and what it would mean to solve it.

So: how can you translate the problem or goal so that the entire crowd can understand it? Ask these crucial questions before handing over the reins to your crowd:

  1. Why is the problem important?

The crowd needs to understand why they should take notice and get involved. Helping people to see what the current impact of a challenge is and what will happen in the future if it’s not solved is really helpful. People need to be moved to take action.

  1. Does the problem need to be broken down?

If the problem is significant, it helps to break it down into smaller segments. For example, if the overarching goal is to get ideas on increasing revenue growth, solicit ideas about improving the selling process, pricing aspects, products or services, or competitor knowledge. It’s easier for the crowd to address pieces of such a major initiative than to attack the entire thing right away, which could be intimidating.

  1. Are there any constraints?

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that you have a blank canvas and unlimited funds to develop ideas. Therefore, make sure that the crowd is aware of any constraints. What’s out of bounds and shouldn’t be touched? What funds are available, and how many ideas are you looking to take forward? Sharing this information helps the crowd avoid unnecessary pitfalls and wasted time.

  1. What does a good idea look like?

Rather than giving an example of a good idea (if you have this, why you asking for others?) – make an effort to understand and communicate the characteristics of a good idea and what makes it likely to be successful. These characteristics could include things such as implementation time, feasibility, and whether the idea aligns to strategic goals and objectives. Again, this helps the crowd submit and identify ideas that are truly actionable.

  1. Are you speaking the same language?

Be careful not to use corporate buzzwords, slang, acronyms, and jargon. It’s really easy to do, but can quickly disengage the crowd, and make them feel inadequate or confused because they don’t understand the words you’re using. This is especially important if your crowd is global. Use simple language so your challenge can be explained to and understood by anyone in the organization.

If you take time to answer these questions, your crowd will understand what their ideas must do, amplifying your ability to find valuable, viable solutions to business challenges — big and small.

NB: This was first published on the Spigit blog on the 13 October 2015.

Credit: Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash