In a perfect crowdsourcing world, a corporate executive will simply ask employees to suggest their best ideas and wait for the groundbreaking, ROI building, and fully actionable ideas to roll in from all corners of the company. Every suggestion is easy to understand and build upon, all participate positively, and a new era of ideation descends upon your organization.

The reality, however, is a bit different. When you engage any large group of people in a crowdsourcing initiative, we often say that the “wisdom of this crowd” will deliver results. However it’s easy to overlook the synecdoche that is perpetrated by this phrasing – it’s not “the crowd” that deliver results, it’s the individuals who make up that crowd. With this in mind, it’s important to identify and understand the unique – but formulaic – roles which participants fall into within all collaborative innovation ecosystems. For every innovation project manager out there I’m sure that the following 5 “Innovation Archetypes” will look very familiar:

5_types_instigatorThe Instigator:

Much of the time, Instigators can seems standoffish, as though they aren’t actively engaged in the project. They may not submit many comments or vote on many ideas, but below the surface they are often very busy. This personality type tends to spend a lot of time internally interrogating ideas, and then suddenly out of the blue, they will submit an idea so groundbreaking that the entire organization is buzzing.

How you can engage them: In a system where the currency is ideas, the instigator is a crucial participant. Even when their ideas are a bit too “out-there” or disruptive, they still nurture positive activity in your system by encouraging activity and discussion.

The Debater:

5_types_debaterThese users can sometimes become demonized within your system, and with good reason – they don’t pull any punches and will be completely honest if they don’t like your idea. However we all know that adversity is the key to development, and no single user provides more adversity than the debater. Every time they play devils advocate it either improves an idea, or proves why it shouldn’t be taken forward.

How you can engage them: Debaters are all about commenting, so it’s important to facilitate their debates through responsive social functions and automated notifications. Make sure there is a culture of transparency within your organization otherwise these participants will feel rejected and their valuable input will be missed out on.

The Voter:

5_types_voterCrowd-voting is an essential element of almost any innovation management platform, as many companies rely on the wisdom of the crowd to identify valuable ideas from the initial pool of submissions. The Voter personality might not contribute many ideas or comments, but their silent judgment often creates a foundation upon which the whole innovation initiative rests.

How you can engage them: It’s important to choose a crowdsourcing solution which supports a variety of crowd voting techniques to get the most out of this participant. Some advanced options include token voting, idea tournaments (pairwise methodology), or even idea investment (prediction markets) which acts as a virtual stock market. To really engage the voter, you should recognize and possibly even reward participation of the voter using a variety of gamification methods.

The Dreamer:


The goal of your idea challenge might be process improvement as an example and they might suggest a transformation that would cost 10 years’ profit to implement.

They love to raise ideas on a regular basis, but their ideas can sometimes be somewhat unrealistic. The focus of one of your idea challenges might be process improvement as an example but the dreamer might suggest a transformation that would cost 10 years’ profit to implement.

However as the old saying goes “aim for the stars and land on the moon”, and sometimes these ambitious users can give your more conservative users the inspiration to at least set their sights on the moon.

How you can engage them: When your users suggest unrealistic or ultra-ambitious ideas, your first action should be to check the phrasing of the challenge which you’re posing to your users. If this is not the issue, then it could be a good idea to pair this user with a more pragmatic user and see if this improves results. Encourage the formation of idea teams. (This Harvard paper may give you some good ideas how to productively create a multidisciplinary team.) The ones who really change the world, are those who dare to dream, the misfits. So while having a Dreamer on your team (or several of them in one idea challenge) can sometimes be frustrating, you don’t want your users to be afraid to dream or feel limited… If you have a sound prototyping stage gate in place that let “ideas fail early without negative impact” then you are protected from unwanted side effects and maybe eventually one of these ideas will catapult you towards the disruptive innovation which all companies dream of. One of my favorite stories that I tell during our best practices workshops to clients is how a “dreamer” had the idea of “strawberry fields in front of our Headquarters” and how this idea that was totally “out there” transformed a large commodity trader into a leading, eco-friendly and globally recognized brand.

5_types_perfectionistThe Perfectionist

While there are some users within the system which submit one-sentence ideas with very little elaboration, Perfectionists do the complete opposite and submit ideas which seem to go on forever. Theoretically, this should not be a problem, but in certain cases there is an undeniable case of “Too Much Information”, making it very difficult for regular end-users to digest the content. However, you want their insights and attention to details to be part of your idea development.

How you can engage them: The Perfectionist may have excellent ideas, but their fear of criticism drives them to overthink things. To combat this you need to create a safe environment, where creativity is valued unequivocally and participation is always recognized. It is also important to create a set of guidelines for idea submission to keep everyone on the same page. You can also use idea submission forms that help them to focus on certain areas of their ideas – for example you can use a Design Thinking template, a CO-STAR template etc. You can structure the idea forms in a way that the contribution of the Perfectionist arrives as a structured but not over-detailed idea
5_types_round_tableGetting Everyone On Board.

While some of these innovation archetypes might seem like ones you should avoid, the reality is that they are all necessary components in the process of creating value for your organization. If you accept this fact and embrace the individual people who come together to constitute the “wisdom of the crowd”, you will see far better results than if you try to suppress them. You may want to consider to let them wear different “hats” or purposely adopt the above-mentioned roles and “play them out” in your ideation system. This means while the above archetypes come naturally to certain individuals, you can also ask users to take one of the roles on specifically. This means while looking at a challenge or even a specific idea the one takes the role of a dreamer, the other the role of a debater and so on – and all on and with a purpose. This is a very effective Business event Methodology that can easily be adopted to your ideation system and idea challenge methodology and deliver high quality, extremely ROI-rich results. No matter if you stipulate these roles artificially or let them happen naturally – they are all essential and wanted in the great Innovation Mix ecosystem.