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Tim Kastelle writes a blog on innovation called Innovation Leadership Network. In a recent article called Filtering, Crowdsourcing and Innovation he discusses crowdsourcing for innovation. There he states that one of the conditions for success is that you must ask a question.

None of the crowdsourcing portals in the Internet that I know do this. Instead, they simply say, „Citizens of world, send us your ideas!“ I agree with Tim that this is not a promising approach, and the many failed initiatives that are out there confirm this; they receive thousands of ideas, of which only a very small number – if any – are good enough to be implemented.

Tim’s article raises an interesting question for companies using idea portals, namely: „What question should we ask?“ As anyone who facilitates ideation workshops knows, the more precise the question, the better the answers will be.

Some simple questions would be

  • How could we improve our product?
  • How could we improve your customer experience?

These are simply re-formulations of the information the company is interested in. Because they are so generic, they will not provide much better ideas than no question at all.

More interesting questions would be

  • What annoys you about our product?
  • What was the most unusual situation in which you used our product?
  • When don’t you use our product, although we might have expected you to?

These questions are still fairly standard, but should nevertheless yield some interesting leads for innovation.

Most ideation techniques use a change of perspective:

  • What could we do that would make our product the only viable alternative for you?
  • If you became CEO of our company, what would you change first?
  • How would a multi-millionaire improve our product?
  • What do you think our product will be like 10 years from now?
  • We have a top-secret innovation plan hidden in our vault which will revolutionize our product. We are offering a prize if you can guess what it is!

Questions like these should inspire the creative (and therefore most valuable) visitors to the portal. The result will be a smaller number of higher-quality ideas.

If you were a company with an Internet-based idea portal, what questions would you ask?