Can you come up with ideas that are as good as the professional idea generators?

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sunova-surfboards-bert-burger-team-rider-paul-bocquet-the-professional (Photo credit: Sunova Surfboards)

You’ve thought of a new product idea but don’t believe that it will match up to what the so-called professionals can concoct. An idea hatched in a bedroom studio, kitchen table, backyard shed or garage doesn’t seem to have the lustrous glamour of those that come from research and development laboratories, test kitchens and design fests.

With so many new ideas out there in any one year, how will your idea stand up to the hining brilliance of others with much more professional experience in coming up with new products and services?

Will that idea that you got in the middle of the night and jotted down next to your bed stand really have customer benefit? That idea that seems to pop from nowhere into your mind while in the shower – could it be feasible? Will that idea that came to you while you were walking or jogging in your favourite neighbourhood be able to crack it on the commercial market?

We often have fears that our own ideas are not good enough. We tend to want to leave it to the professionals to come up with ideas for new products and services. We are afraid that we might be singled out and ridiculed for having the sheer audacity to come up with a new idea. Who gives you the right to think that you can be as good as the professionals? How dare you try to challenge those who make idea generation part of their professional business?

Yet we see it all the time – ordinary people who come up with ideas for products and services that have eluded the big guns in giant corporations. I’m thinking here of a sample product such as swimwear for women surfers that don’t fall off while they are surfing big waves. Sorry about this additional example but having surfed throughout my teenage and young adult years I can’t help spotting new developments in that domain. It was a surfer who came up with the GoPro camera that is now being used in many other sports. A teenager still in high school came up with the idea for placing plant seeds on a strip of paper and invented the seed-on-a-reel concept.

Two researchers recently looked at the difference between generating ideas for new products from marketers, engineers and designers and compared them with a crowdsourcing process where users of products and services generated ideas. Their findings are interesting: they found that user ideas score significantly higher in terms of novelty and customer benefit and somewhat low in terms of feasibility. That’s not surprising – the point about feasibility – but what they say is that the average values for feasibility (in sharp contrast with novelty and customer benefit) tended to be relatively higher overall.

In the paper “The Value of Crowdsourcing: Can Users Really Compete with Professionals in Generating New Product Ideas?” Marion K. Poetz and Martin Schreier teamed up with a leading company in the baby products market and compared the company internal idea generation process with users who were invited to submit their new product ideas via the company’s website.

The findings of the study demonstrated user ideas score higher on average in terms of novelty and custom, benefit and somewhat low in terms of feasibility. The researchers say this indicates that professionals are more capable of coming up with ideas that can be developed more easily into a product for the market. However, they found that the best ideas overall tended to be more heavily concentrated among users compared with the company’s professionals. None of the professional ideas were placed at the top for novelty as well as customer benefit.

This result is understandable because people who have not worked in these big companies may not know what is “feasible” for the company’s requirements. The researchers make an important point about ideas for new products depending on the industry or product category. What this means is that new product ideas are more feasible when the user has domain experience in the industry or product category. I think this makes a lot of sense because it’s genuinely easier for someone to come up with an idea in a field of where they have experience and in industries or product category that they know.

So if you ever think your idea is second rate compared to the so-called professional idea generators including marketers, engineers and product design specialists don’t be intimidated. Users of products and services can come up with top ideas – they just have to be cautious when it comes to feasibility of implementing and commercialising their idea.

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