It can be pretty hard to ask for help. 

But what if, every time you needed it, you got to ask a room full of the smartest, most creative, eager-to-help friends? 

That’s exactly what some organizations are doing through open innovation. 

Consider an example laid out by SURGE Growth keynote speaker Safi Bahcall in his bestseller, “Loonshots,” which examines and lays out how to create space in your organization to let crazy ideas have a chance to succeed and — just maybe — change the world. 

Have you registered for SURGE Growth yet? The FREE virtual conference returns Nov. 6-8! 

In his book, Bahcall defines open innovation as the joint development between companies and customers of new ideas, technologies or markets. He points to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, as it’s more commonly known, for an example. The government agency is tasked with developing new and emerging technologies for the American military. 

A decade ago, when DARPA was looking to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Internet, which is widely considered the result of a DARPA project, a half-joke turned into a real endeavor for the government agency. By creating a public experiment, they’d be able to take a look at how to crowdsource the answer to a problem. And so, they stuck 10 balloons in various public spaces around the country. The first team to find them all would earn $40,000. 

The balloon team planned to run the experiment for a week, but there was no need: The winning team had found all 10 balloons in less than nine hours. 

So, how’d they do it? As Bahcall writes, a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched a reward strategy to create its own crowd. Each balloon was pegged at one-tenth of the grand prize, and everyone who helped find them would get a cut of the prize money. 

This strategy, of opening up about a problem and publicly creating a team to solve it, requires a different way of thinking but relies on some of the oldest rewards in history: autonomy, visibility and peer recognition. DARPA harnessed open innovation by using the balloon challenge learn more about motivating crowds. 

Open innovation is becoming more and more common, Bahcall wrote. It helped the Coors Brewing Company develop the cold-activated logo that change color when your beer is cold enough to drink, and it helped Kraft Foods create melt-resistant chocolate. In their book “New Power,” Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms describe the crowdsourcing Lego relies on to create new kits and provide feedback on “The Lego Movie.” They also tell how NASA opened up about several problems it was trying to solve and ended up with a new model to forecast solar storms more quickly and more accurately than they ever had before. And the answer came from a semi-retired telecommunications engineer. 

So, what do all these lessons about open innovation tell us? They mean that we are not the smartest people in the room, especially when you consider the room can include thousands of people. 

They also mean that, to find the most creative, innovative ways to solve problems, we should expect the answers to come from somewhere unexpected.

Chelsea Brasted is the writer and editor who serves as content manager for AssociationSuccess.org. A former reporter and breaking news editor for The Times-Picayune, she lives in New Orleans with her husband and two rescue dogs.

Chelsea Brasted is the writer and editor who serves as content manager for AssociationSuccess.org. A former reporter and breaking news editor for The Times-Picayune, she lives in New Orleans with her husband and two rescue dogs.

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