What’s in it for me? – how to motivate individuals to participate and contribute in an open innovation process

What’s in it for me? – how to motivate individuals to participate and contribute in an open innovation process

Open Innovation is about engaging others, but in order to do so you need to convince contributors to participate! What is it that makes it interesting to participate; “What’s in it for me”? 

There are a number of different ways to get individuals to voluntarily participate in open innovation processes. Which approach that delivers the best results differ from case to case. It is therefore important to carefully think about what you ask for, why you are doing it and who you ask, and set up your incentives accordingly. In most cases, you need to combine a variety of incentives to motivate participants to contribute.

Intrinsic motivation is linked to the actual task to be performed. Participants may for example be motivated to contribute because they think it’s fun, they are driven by curiosity and interest, they want to make their voices heard, learn things, develop themselves, and do some good.

Extrinsic motivation is not directly related to the actual task to be performed. It’s evoked by incentives that participants can take part of after performing the task. This may involve, for example that the best ideas are rewarded with an award and/or attention so that the participants thereby increases their status and recognition. Other motivators may be business opportunities and partnership, employment or a chance to expand their network of contacts.

It is of vital importance to be clear and fair during the selection process, i.e. when you decide who deserves and does not deserve the promised incentives. If you want to create a co-creation process, meaning that the participants build on each other’s ideas, one option is to provide micro-rewards, which means that anyone who contributed in some way, may take part of the promised reward.

Risks with extrinsic motivators

Extrinsic motivators are not entirely unproblematic. For example, the promise of monetary incentives may result in that people holds on to some of their knowledge, because they start to evaluate how much their effort is really worth, compared to what they will get. There are also studies showing that such rewards can inhibit creativity.

Interestingly, several good examples of open innovation, such as Wikipedia and Linux, have been created by users mostly driven by intrinsic motivation. It has also been found, that people have a greater tendency to contribute with their knowledge without personal gain on issues that are of a social nature – “for the greater good”.

Build trust and be explicit

Besides thinking about what motivates individuals, it’s important to consider what might inhibit individuals from participating in an open innovation process. Often, the lack of control may be a limiting factor. The participant may begin to question both you and the process itself, with questions like “Can I trust you?”, “What happens to my contribution?” and “What exactly is the purpose?”.

It is therefore important to build trust and be explicit about your expectations and intentions, and to an as great extent as possible let the contributors retain some control. It is also important that the time and effort it takes to contribute is balanced by what the contributors get out of participating.

Acknowledge your participants

Think about the open innovation process as a rewarding conversation. You need to acknowledge your participants and give them feedback in order to make the process perceived as a dialogue. In the best of worlds, both you and all your contributors will feel like winners when the process is completed.

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