The Crowdovation Era Is Here

Ideas and Decisions Come from the Masses

Crowdovation_lXiaomi says it’s looking for ideas — not just feedback about quality or colours but real proposals about future product lines and features. In some ways, the Chinese company appears to be crowdsourcing its business development strategy, with executives asking, “What future products from Mi would you like to have?”

The company could be accused of using tweets and posts to fish for complements, but the social-based market research effort is almost certainly genuine on some level. Big-company innovation once came from a mixture of research and development-led enablers, a series of executive decisions and consumer research that had worked its way back through the company several times. However, ideas are bouncing around in public for a potential Xiaomi wearables line, for example. It’ll be worth following the open product discussion threads to see which noise gets heard, and if they succeed. Can slow and closed be replaced by open and quick?

CCS Insight has discussed the rising importance of crowd funding in the past, calling it a “new dimension” in product development (see Expectations and Predictions for MWC 2014). Consumers can vote with their wallets and decisions can be made with incredible efficiency and — if wisdom-of-crowd theories are correct — great accuracy.

However, there’s the threat of misguided market demand. Based on limited knowledge and a lack of long-term vision, consumers may send in requests for “faster horses” as Henry Ford said, rather than automobiles. Crowd funding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter combined with videos and some mediocre acting address this rather well. Use-case demonstrations wrapped around visionary ideas get dollar votes. Elevator pitches are now made in stadiums, and future economic histories will be writing about this shift. Barriers to barriers of entry have fallen.

Last week at the annual Helsinki-region Slush start-up event, Finland-based Jolla asked the crowd to help it with a go-or-no-go decision for a Sailfish-based tablet. The company quickly reached its goal of $380,000 via an Indiegogo campaign, then suddenly broke into the million-dollar market. Jolla’s upcoming device is being called the world’s first crowd-funded tablet, and perhaps the world’s first crowd-decided tablet. In reality, Jolla’s decision may have been made elsewhere, but the funding strategy was a fantastic display of public affection from its fans and a great litmus test of sincerity.

Now Jolla’s at it again, with more questions for the crowd. Should microSD card support be bumped up to 128GB? Should the device have cellular connectivity? These and other potential product features will be determined by the use of the crowd’s currency with particular money milestones needed to be reached for each. Just a few years ago, seemingly small decisions like this took some real product management energy and time, but social engagement is changing this. Larger companies might want to join in on the fun.

Crowdovating provides the ability to invent and decide using mass input. It helps some projects eliminate risk by adding some certainly to decision-making, and provides others with true inspiration for devices and services. The ideas are certainly out there. Crowds can be wrong, though, of course — they can be very wrong. Companies know that group thinking can glue up the product creation process at times. Apple’s known as a company that shies away from market research of any kind, relying on the right gut instincts and talent to bring change from within. However, Google tests and cuts new services on a continuous basis, using the world as its willing guinea pig. Each company needs to find out what suits them best.

We’re seeing some very fresh product ideas thanks to social-media based market research methods and crowd funding services. For companies stuck in a rut, it could be time to crowdovate.