And so it is. Don Tapscott tells the story of InnoCentive, an idea market launched by Eli Lilly in 2001. InnoCentive allows companies to post research problems that member scientists (who number more than 90,000 in 175 countries) can crack in exchange for cash rewards. A quick look at the InnoCentive site reveals that the current maximum reward is $1 million–quite a motivator. (The more relevant question, of course, is the average reward, which the site doesn’t reveal.)
The notion behind ideagoras seems to be to treat the world as a big part of your enterprise R&D lab. Use your internal R&D people–who understand your customers–to come up with the blue-sky ideas (we should sell platinum saltines!) and leave the down-to-earth problems (how do we get the salt to stick to the little squares?) for the ideagoras. Of course, one happy implication of this approach is that (other things equal) your R&D budget will shrink.
At the limit, Don Tapscott imagines a market of eBay-like proportions with people submitting both problems and solutions (patents) for general review and consumption. In his mind, such a market will drive innovation at a much faster pace than we’ve ever seen. I suspect that that’s probably true.
Now, one tiny problem with ideagoras (I feel we should get it out on the table) is that specifying a problem often presupposes a certain type of solution. In other words, getting the salt to stick might (to you) be a difficult materials science problem…but if it were reconceived as a chemistry problem, it might become easy. The unfortunate part is that you’re going to categorize the problem under “Materials Science” when you post it to the ideagora, and it’s possible that no chemist will ever see it.
In any case. Ideagoras seem to represent a powerful new approach to innovation and if you’re intrigued, I urge you to pick up Wikinomics and read about them in more depth. Not to do so…would be hubris.