Over the last couple years, the idea of corporations using a larger community of thinkers to generate innovations has gotten plenty of ink. I think the tipping point was when Procter and Gamble unveiled its strategy of working with everyone from consumers to suppliers to generate better products. It's a brilliant notion -- it just plain stands to reason that more people can generate more and better ideas.
Napkin Labs is a Boulder, CO start-up that has created a web platform to help brands, companies, and organizations harness the brain power of engaged crowds in service of their challenges. Anything from new product ideas to market research to early trends identification to concept validation.
Using Napkin Labs, businesses describe what they are looking for and have teams of people come to them with ideas and insights.
The process begins when a brand posts a challenge and any relevant "constraints" or desired features. From there, the brand posts a prize for identifying the idea/solution. And then we're off to the races.
That's when the community kicks in. Napkin Labs members join the projects that deeply interest them -- those to which they believe they can make a contribution. From there, the project moves through a defined set of phases, with participants asking questions, posting answers, and submitting content of whatever form -- whatever helps get the group closer to the goal. That could be a mechanical drawing, a video, or even, like it says on the tin, a drawing on a cocktail napkin. Of course the team is not just working on one potential solution -- the process is designed to generate multiple POVs and options. Then, the larger community votes on these ideas. The voting chooses the winning idea, and the prize is awarded.
Nothing happens in a vacuum on Napkin Labs. There are no lone wolves here. Rather, the individuals that are attracted to this community are people who like to collaborate -- who are driven by possibilities and the enriching power of many perspectives. Oh, and as for the prizes, it's not an all-or-nothing competition. Rather, people are rewarded for the number and quality of their participations. Here's the "tour" vid (hit the expando icon when it starts...you'll want to see it full screen.)
Members must apply to be part of the community. It isn't automatic. That's valuable, if for no other reason than to protect the platform from becoming the "the Yahoo (Bad)Answers" of Innovation. The core value proposition of this is deeply connected to an enagegd community, a strong collaboration platform, and the wisdom of crowds. Time will tell, but I am betting that it is a winning combination. I am absolutely convinced that crowdsourced innovation is the future of every industry. When we unleash committed teams, there's nothing they cannot do.