Article | Harvard Business Review | April 2013

Using the Crowd as an Innovation Partner

by Kevin J. Boudreau and Karim R. Lakhani


More and more organizations are turning to crowds for help in solving their most vexing innovation and research questions, but managers remain understandably cautious. It seems risky and even unnatural to push problems out to vast groups of strangers distributed around the world, particularly for companies built on a history of internal innovation. How can intellectual property be protected? How can a crowdsourced solution be integrated into corporate operations? What about the costs? These concerns are all reasonable, but excluding crowdsourcing from the corporate innovation tool kit means losing an opportunity. After a decade of study, we have identified when crowds tend to outperform internal organizations (or not). We outline four ways to tap into crowd-powered problem solving—contests, collaborative communities, complementors, and labor markets—and offer a system for picking the best one in a given situation. We emphasize that crowds are complementary to internal innovation efforts and present a new capability for firms that want to accelerate their innovation outcomes.

Keywords: Innovation and Management; Research and Development;


Boudreau, Kevin J., and Karim R. Lakhani. "Using the Crowd as an Innovation Partner." Harvard Business Review 91, no. 4 (April 2013): 61–69.