Tag Archives: innocentive

Questions Are More Powerful Than We Think

Questions Are More Powerful Than We Think

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

When I was 27, I moved to Warsaw, Poland to work in the nascent media industry that was developing there. I had experience working in media in New York, so I was excited to share what I’d learned and was confident that my knowledge and expertise would be well received.

It wasn’t. Whenever I began to explain how a media business was supposed to work, people would ask me, “why?” That forced me to think about it and, when I did, I began to realize that many of the principles I had taken for granted were merely conventions. Things didn’t need to work that way and could be done differently.

That’s when I first learned the power of a question. As Warren Berger explains in A More Beautiful Question, while answers tend to close a discussion, questions help us open new doors and can lead to genuine breakthroughs. Yet not all questions are equal. Asking good questions is a skill that takes practice and effort to learn to do well. Here’s where to start.


When we are young, we ask lots of “why?” questions. Why is the sky blue? Why can’t we fly like birds? Why do I have to go to bed at a certain time? It is through asking why that we learn basic things about the world. Yet as we get older, we tend to think we know things and stop questioning fundamental assumptions.

That’s where I was when I first arrived in Poland. I had gone through extensive training and knew things. I was proud of the knowledge that I had gained and didn’t question whether those things were necessarily true. My new Polish colleagues, on the other hand, were emerging from 50 years of communism and so were unencumbered with that illusion of knowledge.

In researching my book, Mapping Innovation, I spoke to dozens of world class innovators, and I was amazed how often breakthroughs started with a “Why?” question. For example, Jim Allison, a prominent immunologist who had lost family members to cancer, asked himself why our immune system doesn’t attack tumors.

“Why?” questions can be frustrating, because there are rarely easy answers to them, and they almost always lead to more questions. There’s even a technique called the 5 Whys that is designed to uncover root problems. Nevertheless, if you want to get beyond fundamental assumptions, you need to start with asking “why?”

What If?

While asking “why?” can help alert us to new opportunities, asking “What if” can lead us into new directions and open new doors. Einstein was famous for these types of thought experiments. Asking “What if I would ride on a bolt of lightning?” led to his theory of special relativity and asking, “What if I was riding on an elevator in space?” led to general relativity.

Often, we can use “What if?” questions to propose answers to our “Why?” questions. For example, after Jim Allison asked himself why our immune system doesn’t attack tumors, he followed it up by asking, “what if our immune system actually does attack tumors, but shuts off too soon?”

That took him in a completely new direction. He began to experiment with regulating the immune response and achieved amazing results. Eventually, he would win the Nobel Prize for his role in establishing the new field of cancer immunotherapy. It all started because he was able to imagine new possibilities with a “What if?” question.

Another way we can use “What If? questions is to remove or add constraints. For example, we can ask ourselves, “What if we didn’t have to worry about costs?” or “What if we could only charge our customers half of what we’re charging now?” Asking “What if? Questions can often alert us to possibilities what we weren’t aware of.


Asking “Why?” and “What if? questions can open up new opportunities, eventually we need to answer the “How?” question. “How?” questions can be especially difficult because answering them often involves knowledge, resources and capabilities that we do not possess. That’s what makes “How?” questions fundamentally more collaborative.

For example, as a research executive at Eli Lilly, Alph Bingham became interested in why some chemistry problems never got solved. One observation he made was that when he was in graduate school, if there were 20 people in a class, they would often come up with 20 different approaches to a problem, but in industry scientists generally worked alone.

Long an admirer of Linux, he was fascinated with the way thousands of volunteers were able to create and advance complex software that could compete with the best proprietary products. So he began to think “What if we could do something like Linux, but with a bounty?” He thought that if he got more people working on the “How?” question, he might be able to solve more problems.

The fruit of his efforts, called Innocentive went live in June 2001 with 21 problems, many of which the company had been working on for years. Although the bounties were small in the context of the pharmaceutical industry — $20,000 to $25,000 — by the end of the year a third of them were solved. It was an astounding success.

It soon became clear that more challenges on the site would attract more solvers, so they started recruiting other companies to the platform. When results improved, they even began inviting competitors to post challenges as well. Today, Innocentive has over 100,000 solvers that work out hundreds of problems so tough that even the smartest companies can’t crack them.

Building A Culture Of Inquiry

When I first arrived in Poland, I was prepared to give all the answers, because that’s what I was trained for. The media business in New York had been around for a long time and everything was supposedly worked out. Follow the model, I was told, and you’ll be successful. That’s why the questions my new colleagues posed took me by surprise.

Yet once I started asking questions myself, I began to see opportunities everywhere. As I travelled and worked in different countries, I found that everywhere I went, people ran nearly identical businesses in completely different ways and most were convinced that their way was the “right” way. Most saw little utility in questioning how things were done.

That’s why most people can’t innovate. In fact, while researching Mapping Innovation, I found that the best innovators were not the ones who were the smartest or even the ones who worked the hardest, but those who continually looked for new problems to solve. They were always asking new questions, that’s how they found new things.

The truth is that to drive innovation, we need to build a culture of inquiry. We need to ask “why” things are done the way they are done, “what if” we took a different path and “how” things can be done differently. If you don’t explore, you won’t discover and if you don’t discover, you won’t invent. Once you stop inventing, you will be disrupted.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

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The Future of Collaboration in Innovation

Trends and Opportunities

The Future of Collaboration in Innovation

GUEST POST from Chateau G Pato

In today’s rapidly changing world, innovation has become a key driver of success for businesses across all industries. However, the traditional model of innovation, where organizations rely solely on internal resources and expertise, is no longer sufficient. In order to stay ahead of the competition and drive impactful change, businesses must embrace collaboration as a fundamental aspect of their innovation strategy.

Collaboration in innovation involves working with external partners, such as other companies, research organizations, startups, and even customers, to share knowledge, expertise, and resources. By tapping into the collective brainpower of a diverse group of stakeholders, businesses can access new ideas, perspectives, and capabilities that can fuel their innovation efforts.

One of the key trends shaping the future of collaboration in innovation is the rise of open innovation platforms. These platforms, such as InnoCentive and NineSigma, provide a space where organizations can crowdsource solutions to their most pressing challenges by tapping into a global network of innovators. By leveraging these platforms, businesses can access a vast pool of talent and expertise that can help them solve complex problems and drive breakthrough innovation.

Another trend driving collaboration in innovation is the shift towards ecosystem-based innovation. Instead of relying solely on their internal resources, businesses are now looking to build ecosystems of partners, suppliers, and customers to co-create value and drive innovation. For example, companies like Procter & Gamble have successfully leveraged their open innovation ecosystem, Connect + Develop, to source new product ideas and technologies from external partners.

In order to illustrate the power of collaboration in innovation, let’s examine two case studies of companies that have successfully embraced this approach.

Case Study 1: LEGO

LEGO, the iconic toy company known for its colorful building blocks, has long been a pioneer in collaboration in innovation. In recent years, LEGO has partnered with a diverse range of external stakeholders, including customers, researchers, and even Hollywood studios, to drive innovation and create new products.

One of LEGO’s most successful collaborations has been with the online community LEGO Ideas. Through this platform, fans of the brand can submit their own ideas for new LEGO sets, which are then voted on by the community. If an idea receives enough votes, LEGO will work with the creator to turn it into a new product, sharing royalties with the original designer. This collaborative approach has not only led to the creation of popular sets like the LEGO Ideas Saturn V rocket but has also helped LEGO tap into the creativity and passion of its most dedicated fans.

Case Study 2: GE

General Electric (GE), a multinational conglomerate known for its diverse portfolio of products and services, has also embraced collaboration as a core part of its innovation strategy. In recent years, GE has partnered with startups, universities, and other companies to drive innovation in areas such as advanced manufacturing, energy, and healthcare.

One notable collaboration is GE’s partnership with the software company Quirky. Through this partnership, GE has leveraged Quirky’s online platform to crowdsource new product ideas from aspiring inventors. GE then works with the inventors to bring these ideas to market, helping them navigate the complexities of product development and distribution. This collaborative approach has not only resulted in the creation of innovative products like the Aros smart air conditioner but has also helped GE tap into new sources of creativity and innovation.


Collaboration in innovation is key to driving meaningful change and staying competitive in today’s fast-paced business environment. By embracing open innovation platforms, building ecosystems of partners, and collaborating with external stakeholders, businesses can access new ideas, perspectives, and capabilities that can fuel their innovation efforts. The future of collaboration in innovation is bright, filled with exciting opportunities for businesses to drive impactful change and create value for their customers.

SPECIAL BONUS: Futurology is not fortune telling. Futurists use a scientific approach to create their deliverables, but a methodology and tools like those in FutureHacking™ can empower anyone to engage in futurology themselves.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Is GE Trying to be Too Quirky?

Is GE Trying to be Too Quirky?

Last week GE and Quirky announced a new partnership where GE will make some of its library of patents available as part of Quirky’s new inspiration platform, allowing inventors to use some of its patents in their potentially novel consumer product invention ideas. This on its surface is a very interesting and logical open innovation partnership. Some people are talking about it as a crowdsourcing partnership, but it isn’t really because the work product is not well-defined and being sourced from multiple competing providers. No, this is an open innovation partnership.

Here is the Quirky and GE partnership announcement video:

It is very interesting to me that GE chose to partner with Quirky and not someone like Innocentive, NineSigma, Idea Connection or someone else. I’m curious what others think this indicates about the future of these firms. Personally, I think that this is something that Quirky is better equipped to make happen than these other firms, and that Innocentive and others still fill an important need using a completely different approach (challenge-driven innovation).

Is GE Trying to be Too Quirky?

Whether or not GE creates any sizable new businesses from their participation in this partnership, I still think this is a brilliant marketing move by Beth and her team and it will be interesting to see whether any impactful inventions come from people leveraging GE’s patent portfolio.

Here is Quirky’s video announcing their inspiration platform (which they raised $68 million to help build):

There is one thing that bugs me a wee bit about Quirky. My tagline since 2006 has been “Making innovation insights accessible for the greater good” and it feels like they’ve swiped it to create theirs – “Making invention accessible.” Surely as creative people they could have invented their own tagline instead of swiping mine. 😉 (wink)

But, there is another idea of mine trapped in this announcement that I’d like to highlight and set free, and that is the idea that innovation is not just about ideas, but that other factors are equally important – including inspiration, investigation, and iteration. These are captured in my incredibly popular Eight I’s of Infinite Innovation framework.

Eight I's of Infinite Innovation

Be sure and follow this article link to the Eight I’s of Infinite Innovation if you missed the link above, or if you’re not clicking away to learn more, here is a quick list of the eight stages:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Investigation
  3. Ideation
  4. Iteration
  5. Identification
  6. Implementation
  7. Illumination
  8. Installation

Personally I don’t think their platform appears to go far enough to deliver inspiration or to empower investigation, and as a software and internet guy I would be happy to help Quirky and GE strengthen the solution if they’re interested in making this platform more successful.

Will any successful innovations come out of this GE and Quirky partnership?

I’d love to hear what you think.

Image credits: GE, Quirky

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Harnessing the Global Talent Pool to Accelerate Innovation

In this webinar hosted by Innocentive I explore how organizations can utilize open innovation and crowdsourcing resources as an essential talent management strategy to drive their business.

You can engage me to create a webinar or white paper for your audience here.

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