Crowdsource Ideas to Grow Your Business

You may be pretty smart, there are plenty of other smart people out there. Never assume that, just because you are a leader, you have a monopoly on good ideas. Try to crowdsource ideas within (and potentially beyond) your organization.

As you grow, you need to take advantage of emerging opportunities and deal with emerging threats. Ideally, you address those before they become obvious to your competitors so that others react to you rather than you reacting to others. It’s hard to do that, though, if you only rely on yourself for ideas.

Unfortunately, in many cultures around Asia, junior people hesitate to share their ideas, because they don’t think they are supposed to. Whether they learned that in their family, in school, or elsewhere, they may not think it’s their place to offer their ideas. It’s up to you to either make crowdsourcing ideas the norm, or at least make it easy to do so people are more likely to do it.

Make It Anonymous

One reason people hesitate is that they don’t want people to think less of them for a “bad” idea. This concern about losing face is common in many situations, so consider a process where idea submission is anonymous. By reducing the risk of offering ideas, you make it more likely people will do so.

Though the days of the suggestion box in the coffee room may be behind us, you could easily set up a spot on your intranet where people could leave anonymous ideas. Perhaps you could use a form submission that does not require the sender to include an email address, or you could use any one of many collaboration tools to collect ideas. In meetings, you could ask people to write out and submit ideas instead of presenting them verbally. If people feel it’s risky to give ideas, then remove the risk.

Open It Up to All

Rather than being anonymous, consider going to the other extreme and opening up your crowdsourcing process the everyone. As you get more people involved — even if they aren’t the ones actually suggesting ideas — then crowdsourcing becomes the norm rather than the exception. If you want to change attitudes toward something, try changing behaviors, and the attitudes will follow.

One option is to solicit ideas from people, then have everyone vote on them. Perhaps use a Workplace group (if you use Workplace) for people to post ideas, and then others can “Like” them, with the top 10 vote-getters being considered for implementation. Even people who aren’t developing ideas are part of the process, as evaluators if not idea-generators. This shows everyone that crowdsourcing ideas is valued, and will lead to greater participation over time.

Use Outsiders to Encourage Insiders

When you are looking for new ideas, consider soliciting ideas from people outside the company. This demonstrates to people on the inside that you are really serious about getting new ideas. Whether reaching out to vendors, students, or even to your customers, showing that you really want fresh thinking may encourage people in the company to contribute, too.

In the last few years, some firms have experimented with hackathons, where they invite small startups to come in and tackle a project in a short time. The best of these involve teams of outsiders and employees working together. Some banks have had great success with this, matching up bankers with techies, and seeing new customer services emerge as a result.

Share Your Own Concerns

Your team may think that, as their boss, you are not interested in the ideas they have to offer. You need to show them, not just tell them, that you want to use the skills they bring. In many countries the traditional way of doing business is “boss talks, employees do,” so you need to break that stereotype.

Consider going to them with specific problems that need solutions. Maybe tell them that you think their skills in this particular area are stronger than yours. Perhaps let them know that you don’t have the time to take this on, but you know they have the ability to get it done. make it clear that you don’t consider yourself “all-powerful,” and they might feel more confident about stepping up.

Start With the Juniors

Your most junior employees often have great insights because their lack of experience leaves them more open to unconstrained thinking. Unfortunately, they are also the ones least likely to speak up. How can you get them to contribute?

Try this: when you are in a meeting and asking for suggestions, ask people directly instead of just putting a question out to everyone. Go around the room and ask for their thoughts, starting with the junior person and then working your way up the seniority. Why? Because then they will give you answers without being influenced by what senior people said. It’s too easy to nod and say “I agree with my manager,” so try removing that option. They cannot just blindly agree with someone else if they are the first to speak.

You need to crowdsource ideas and solutions from others, but they may not realize that. Make it easy to offer ideas, and make it the norm, then wait for all the suggestions to flow your way.