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If You Want to Innovate, Collaborate

TaskRabbit began six years ago as an online marketplace where users can outsource small jobs to others in the surrounding community. From buying your dog food, to picking up your dry cleaning, to installing your Ikea furniture, or cleaning your oven, the site contracts out any chore you can imagine. Now an emblem of today’s ‘sharing economy,’ millions all over America frequent the site.

Like TaskRabbit, your organization should consider subcontracting your most needed projects to increase efficiency.

Jesse Goldhammer. Principal in Doblin, an innovation strategy unit within Deloitte, and author of the recent report, The Craft of Incentive Prize Design and Lessons from the Public Sector, told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that your organization should utilize incentives to outsource your most needed tasks.

Goldhammer’s report, through a series of eye-opening interviews, illustrates the prizes that came out of the ‘America Compete Re-Authorization Act’ of 2010 that eased the process for federal agencies to offer incentives and prizes.

“It’s kind of a truism of innovation that the smartest and most ingenious people are almost always outside your organization,” Goldhammer said. “And so prizes, competitions and challenges provide a route to access that ingenuity and then to focus it on the things that you care about the most.”

In other words, let your organization focus on what it does best while outsourcing other tasks to those who are more qualified. It’s a win-win for both parties.

“Agencies are taking bigger risks and they are also reaping bigger rewards by using some of these mechanisms to try to answer some basic research and development questions,” said Goldhammer.

However, you shouldn’t blindly commission a project. Make sure your objectives are specific so the task can be completed as needed.

“If you’re a leader or a designer in the federal government, state or local government and you’re trying to use a prize to solve a hard problem, first think about what kind of outcomes that you’re trying to achieve long term,” said Goldhammer. “And then second, arrange and design those elements of prize design properly so that you achieve those outcomes.”

While prizes can certainly enable good work, they aren’t always necessary. Goldhammer lists a few reasons when incentives or prize money should be avoided.

“If there is already a good way of solving the problem you have or if you have a hard problem and the people best to perform the job can’t dedicate the time to complete it, don’t use a prize,” said Goldhammer. “The reason why it’s tricky is because you want to be real careful about defining that problem in such a way that if someone were to be successful it actually helps your organization.”

You want your problems solved, but not at the expense of an abundant loss of time or money. The greater understanding you have of your desired outcome, the better clarification you can give to those working on your project. You should only focus on finishing the one task commissioned. The adjacent problems are secondary.

“Incentives and behaviors are kind of messy business. You need to be thinking about the kinds of organizations or individuals that are going to help you solve your problem. What motivates them? How do you communicate with them? How do you reach them? How do you structure the rules of your prize so that it’s not too long?” said Goldhammer.

According to the report, the top incentive wasn’t money but individual recognition. Managers should use the report as a tool to offer incentives. Employers should highlight individual recognition, above all else, if they want to recruit the best workers.

Goldhammer says the best prizes accomplish two things simultaneously. “You can help the organizations and the individuals who are participating in the prize to improve their own skills in whatever it is that they’re doing. So you can bring as part of your own network, experts who can be helping these organizations to be more innovative. At the same time, you could be building the skills and capabilities of people inside your own agency.”

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