I have often written about accessing innovation from outside the organization (open innovation, borderless innovation, etc). HBR article A Quirky Way of Innovating describes an innovation model that takes things one step further:
Enter Quirky. Quirky’s mission is to crowd-source innovation and product design. They create consumer products by first setting up a competition for solicited but fairly rudimentary product ideas. People evaluate these and some are selected to obtain further refinement. Individuals suggest different features, designs and then even the product name and marketing slogans. Then, if enough people look like they actually want to buy the product, Quirky manufactures and sells it. All along the way, people earn ‘influence points.’ It is not just coming up with the initial idea that wins you points — offering other idea components and playing an active role in voting for different suggestions also contribute — and depending on how many points you have, you may be entitled to a share of the earnings.
The Quirky business model is applicable to not very complex products with direct applicability to end users. However, the idea of incentivizing people to become part of innovation is quite interesting for all R&D managers. May be need a way to source innovation across R&D teams of strategic partners? For example, all companies involved in developing a cell phone together can set up a similar system to invigorate engineering teams? Key concerns here are going to be IP ownership and ability to extract economic value from the innovation. This might be difficult, but it should be possible, at least in theory, to pre-negotiate IP rights with strategic suppliers. Furthermore, there is clear evidence that quality of innovation improves when suppliers are included.