Using crowdsourcing for running scientific innovation projects is something Novozymes has been doing for years on their internal social network COLIN. But, is it possible to combine this cross-over process with design thinking?
An opportunity to answer this question arose when Alain Benchimol at Stavnsholtskolen, a local primary school, contacted Frank Hatzack Head of Innovation Development at Novozymes with the desire to run a joint project on innovation.
The Danish leader in industrial enzymes and microbes took the opportunity and opened up its social ideation platform. The experiment involved 60 school children aged between 14 and 16 in a two-week campaign called ‘The Future of Laundry’ focused on innovating consumer laundry solutions.
The educational purpose
“The school purpose was to bring in “real life” and educate the children in how companies work with innovation. This knowledge, especially the innovative process, was after words used in an exam related project with almost professional accuracy”, says Alain Benchimol, teacher at Stavnsholtskolen.
The business purpose
Novozymes’ business purpose to be involved in this campaign was to see whether or not this method was effective to find out consumers’ needs and explore innovation opportunities. “With a traditional consumer survey one could have thousands of people answering many questions. Here we said: ‘Let’s try something different. Let’s bring a smaller group inside our platform, letting them describe their experiences in their own words. And, let’s look at their stories to see if we can infer some major trends and headlines,” says Frank Hatzack.
The business outcome was surprising and encouraging. “Not only did it lead to innovative concepts but working with such a young crowd was a very uplifting experience: they bristled with motivation, creative energy and fantastically naïve curiosity.”
To start with, students were asked to interview their parents and older siblings of their family on how they did the laundry. This involved describing the procedure as well as the emotional perception of the task. “We asked them to gather information not only on the step by step process, but also the experience. Is it positive? Is it negative? Is it neutral? Is the washing machine easy to use?”
Children had also asked their family members to imagine how doing the laundry should be in the future.
Once all the stories were collected, students were invited to post them on COLIN. They added pictures, drawings, commented on each other representations and endorsed them through a system of ‘likes’.
Please go ahead
Bringing this young group into the corporate virtual platform was surprisingly easy. “The adoption of the tool was very fast. We created a space only for them and showed them how to use the tool. They were keen and learned very quickly. After all they communicate through social media all the time!”
Of the 60 students involved in the project, 30 were actively engaged by sharing their stories and giving others their feedback. Hatzack also noticed a difference between female and male pupils. “Girls tended to post richer and more detailed stories.” They not only described how their family were doing the task but also the social dimension involved with it. “They described how they were splitting the chores among family members telling a story of how they were relating to each other.”
From a technical viewpoint, Hatzack collected children’s email addresses to give them access to COLIN with a proper user account. This was done after the consent of their parents and school.
How about security concerns on the side of the company? “None. Before embarking on this project I asked the permission to the leadership team. ‘Please go ahead and see what you can learned’ was the answer.”
Collect and sort
After a period of two weeks, the children had recorded around 30 stories. You wouldn’t normally expect that describing an ordinary task like doing the laundry can bring much detail. Instead, “we were amazed to learn how different these stories were. We received a wide variety of inputs on how families went about washing different textiles accurately, or how often they did it and how they felt about it.”
Despite this diversity there was also a high degree of consistency around the basic steps of laundry: collect and sort, add detergent, choose the program, wash, dry and collect and sort. The same applied to the key elements that most families cared about: “people cared mostly about saving time, high convenience, low costs and environmental impact.”
The overall emotional perception of doing laundry was neutral to negative. “It turned out that the task was complex. To most families, doing it was a necessary plight. They felt they were spending too much time.”
Most interestingly, the digital exercise revealed three innovation themes: ‘Robotic wash’, ‘Magic detergent’ and ‘Smart laundry service.’
“People would like to have more intelligent machines that could make the task easier. For example, there were suggestions about having clothes with multiple labels and chips able to communicate the type of colour and garment directly to the washing machine and other connected devices.”
With these results emerging from the platform, Hatzack decided to carry out a face-to-face brainstorming session with the children. “We used poster-size templates for each step in the laundry process. We split up the group of 60 students into three subgroups. Each subgroup had to capture both their positive and negative comments around each step as well as give their ideas on how to improve it.”
This led to frenetic posting, resulting in over 180 inputs within just half an hour.
The same exercise was conducted for the three innovation themes that surfaced during the online phase. Hatzack asked the students to develop these concepts by giving them a catchy name, stating the key functionalities and benefits, sketching a drawing with key features and doing a web search on already existing solutions or otherwise enabling technologies.
The future of laundry
The final stage of the campaign saw students pitching their concepts. “The most popular ones were crowd-selected by dot-voting.”
Winning ideas were about robotic laundry technology. But, other concepts were captivating too. “Many of the envisioned innovative features seemed realizable and have the potential to improve key aspects of current technology.”
Opening up to innovate
Hatzack is now thinking about applying the same method for future crowdsourcing and design thinking projects.
“This campaign showed us that by opening up our social network to the external community we can better understand consumer’s needs and explore with them innovation opportunities in an unprecedented way.”