Ask Interesting Questions

Ask Interesting Questions is becoming something of a mantra here at 100%Open.  At any one moment there are many thousands of open innovation challenges available across the globe.  How can you make yours stand out?  We think by making them interesting.

There is already plenty of science to open innovation.  The world is working out the optimum crowd sizes for sourcing fresh ideas and new business partners. Boardrooms are busy hatching new IP regimes and calculating risks and return-on-investment.  But there is also art to open innovation and one of the techniques to master is that of being interesting to external audiences.

Interesting for Them

Opening up innovation challenges makes eminent sense from the large company perspective.  The power of networks almost guarantees someone will have a relevant answer.  From the other end of the telescope things aren’t so clear.  How much time can a small business find to scan all the available web sites, emails and RSS feeds?  When they do, you’d better have an interesting challenge.

Take a look at a recent 100%Open twitter feed snapshot:

Which challenges jumped out and which stayed in the background?  What made sense to you?  At recent workshop I ran for the BQF, the assembled innovators and engineers only wanted to talk about cat litter.

Such questions are great conversation starters and the best one generate emotional responses of intrigue or excitement rather than bafflement bemusement or boredom.

As well as emotional response there has to be a rational reason why someone would answer your challenge.  What are the motivations of your target audience?  Firms need to have a clear idea of how they are going to create value for their new partners before they set out on an open innovation call.

Interesting for You

Making your challenge stand out is as important within a large organisation as it is outside.  How many employees of open innovation firms have looked at their company’s published challenges?  Successful open initiatives go on to be more productive because they’re seen as important within a business.  Those that are central to the company future strategy are more likely to taken seriously across the business.  They will attract investment and have a greater chance of seeing the light of day.  Similarly, a firm’s ‘burning platform’ can provide an urgent call for relevant and urgent innovation.

Over time, those firms that ask consistently interesting question will develop a attractive reputation, especially if they make a habit of following through.  Procter and Gamble for example are often the first port of call in their sector for innovators.  This is an efficient position to be in.

Growing in Interest

The rise in social media means that the most intriguing or relevant calls will be circulated on Twitter, Plaxo and Linked-In and picked up by bloggers.  After all, you’re reading this!  Interesting questions attract a wider generalist as well as a specialist audience giving you a greater chance of lateral ideas.  It is worth bearing in mind that scientists are people too, but not everyone is a scientist! The best questions hit a sweet spot between relevance and reach.  Here is a suggested strategy of how to do this, based our experience.

Towards Interesting Questions

Our most recent interesting question was written with Orange:  “Mobile Volunteering.  Could you dream up or develop apps that help other people in 5 minutes or less?” was conceived for an unusual audience mix of social entrepreneurs, apps developers and NGOs.  In a month we built a community of a thousand active innovators and a month later ten excellent new iphone applications.

  1. Pick a challenge that matters to you and the core business as well as across departments and locations.  Make this a need rather than a want, wish or what-if.
  2. Choose as wide an audience as possible, beyond the usual suspects.  Consider other corporates, customers and consumers as well as small firms and scientists.
  3. Research and test the motivations of your chosen audiences.  Understand what’s in it for them.
  4. Write your challenge succinctly, preferably to fit into the 140 characters of a tweet. Write it in plain language so that it strikes a chord.  If you have a communications agency ask a copywriter to help.
  5. Try it out on a small sample of your audience.   Rewrite as necessary!
  6. Publish the challenge or use it as a springboard in workshops with external partners.  If it’s not working do not be afraid to change it.

As ever, it would be great to have your reactions and builds.

by David Simoes-Brown


  1. […] We had a lively meeting of the BQF Innovation Unit at which David Simoes-Brown of 100% Open was the main presenter.  You can see his slides here.  He gave detailed advice on how to start with Open Innovation and discussed case studies including Lego, Virgin, IBM and others.  He showed a fascinating current example at Orange Mobile Volunteering.  It is a crowdsourcing site where users are encouraged to suggest ways in which mobile technology could help charities or communities.  You can put forward ideas, read other people’s ideas and vote on them.  David develops one of the main themes of his talk, Ask Interesting Questions, on this blog post. […]

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