Wednesday, October 06, 2010

How Companies Solicit Ideas from Inventors

The Wall Street Journal has an article today about how companies are soliciting new product ideas from inventors. According to the article,

In an effort to better connect with inventors, some large manufacturers including Clorox Co., Kraft Foods Inc., , General Mills Inc., Staples Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and GlaxoSmithKline PLC, have launched websites in recent years for soliciting product ideas. Some of the sites occasionally feature specific requests from the companies' research-and-development teams.

Several years ago, a Bryant University Honors student (Taryn Beaudoin) and I worked on some research at Gamewright, an innovative game and puzzle company based in Massachusetts. Gamewright similarly solicits ideas from outside game inventors from all over the world. What we found, though, is that one of the crucial tasks in this process is the filtering mechanism. Several people sifted through these thousands of ideas, looking for gems. We found that this process often relied heavily on the intuitive judgment of those performing this filtering task. Moreover, the ideas that came from inventors often needed substantial refinement.

Thus, the task of the creative folks at the company was to not only filter out the best ideas, but then to figure out how to take the idea to the next level. The research showed us that mass collaboration and open innovation can be quite powerful, but companies must master this "filter and refine" process if they wish to truly derive innovative new products from these efforts.

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