Creating Paradigm Shifting Insights Using Co-Creation And Crowd Sourcing

Cowritten by Tina Santiago, Tanja Aitamurto, Richard Spencer and Dr. Jaewoo Joo.

Coming up with creative ideas that can change mental and technical contradictions into progress and profit are among the toughest challenges in business today. Without previous mental or technical references from which to extrapolate we rely on inspiration and intuition when applying new processes. The key to success is operating with a comprehensive combination of systematic and random searches, the alternative being to rely on "old fashioned luck."

The biggest obstacle to the realization of paradigm shifting insights is our current thinking. Our assumption of what works or does not work will bias and prevent us from seeing solutions that might actually be very close at hand. For example, it took two thousand years to challenge the Greek idea that heavy and light objects fall at a different speed, though it is readily observable that they do not. Often we cannot even count on our customers to recognize game changing ideas. As the adage goes: "If Henry Ford has asked his customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse."

One challenge is that people tend to surround themselves with those who think more or less as they do and they are also unconsciously drawn towards reading articles and watching news programs with which they already agree. We unconsciously construct narratives of the past to make sense of the world we live in and these narratives exist because we filter out all evidence that fail to support them. We then use those narratives to predict the future, from a past that never existed.

With the emergence of the new social and news media, changing one's environment in the blink of an eye is now possible. So, working in or engaging with diverse cultures and professions can significantly help us to see a new perspective in old situations. It is no longer necessary to rely on individuals in your immediate surroundings to generate novel ideas, when you can proactively engage with thousands of people. If they share your passion and find your challenge interesting, they may even ask provocative questions and share some radically different thoughts and insights with you.

Generating breakthrough methods and processes for improving idea generation and implementation is the main focus at the Stanford Center for Design Research and it's newly formed Design Quantification Lab initiative. Design researchers at Stanford have developed methods for identifying and measuring innovation performance for the past two decades. Lately, they have been improving organizational creativity though alternately asking divergent and convergent questions and reframing and quantifying design, using objective Design Quality Criteria metrics. Their recent studies in the co-creation and crowd sourcing of challenges, suggest some remarkable new possibilities.

The process currently being developed is that of successively alternating between formulating a challenge, gathering ideas from global crowds of people and then reformulating the challenge. Using a mix of online social and news media, the process begins by asking broad open-ended questions and harvesting diverse concerns, thoughts and ideas, which is followed by reformulating the questions. By inviting strangers in to co-author, without proclaiming to have all the answers, unquestioned assumptions are challenged and new knowledge injected. These steps are conducted three times, refining and narrowing the scope with each pass. After the last iteration, an Inspirational Design Brief is created, balancing key Design Quality Criteria. In addition to providing useful and effective framing of an opportunity, the process generates buzz and grows an invested and engaged ecosystem of problem solvers.


Co-creation cycle, alternating between expert evaluation and generating ideas with people from all over the world.

It is commonly accepted that the "wisdom of the crowd" outperforms even the crowd's smartest member. The key to successful co-creation and crowd sourcing is making the result a common good and then openly sharing the outcome. You might think that this would remove your competitive advantage, however, by shifting your paradigm from zero-sum thinking to that of enlarging the pie and creating "win-win" situations, everyone makes out like a bandit. As Einstein said: "Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them." Our intention is to explore how this approach can help to create "New Research Paradigms for Business Progress."

Special thanks to Tina Santiago, Tanja Aitamurto, Richard Spencer and Dr. Jaewoo Joo, for researching and co-writing this article.