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The Power of Partnerships Within Open Innovation

BY GINA SPARROW | 11 min read

Innovation Heroes Episode. 5

  Once upon a time, digital marketing entered the scene and savvy professionals got their 'newfangled' ideas shot down. Whoops. Are we in a similar situation now - as Open Innovation, Crowdsourcing, and the Crowd, hit the mainstream? Soon, "the Crowd will be synonymous with the Cloud" shares Dyan Finkhousen, Founder & CEO of Shoshin Works in this fireside style podcast with Kal K. Sahota, President & CEO of HeroX, and fellow HeroXer and Innovation Heroes host, Adam Olsen

What is Shoshin Works out to achieve?

  • Help organizations understand how, where, and to what degree, open innovation can be applied.
  • Provide the platform to give every person a voice
  • Transforming the future of work and the opportunity landscape
  • Disrupt business-as-usual through open innovation ecosystem operation models

  The key is to recognize that no single organization has the ability or the reach to hire all the smartest people. There are brilliant minds out there that can help you think around corners, that can help you find better solutions, and generate better ideas… and all you have to do is ask.

  Open innovation can unlock so much goodness for organizations looking for new solutions, both expected and unexpected. On the flip side, it is also a really powerful way to democratize the opportunity landscape for individuals; where anybody with a great idea, a great solution, or a passion for a better tomorrow can show up and make a pretty extraordinary difference.

Working with a partner, like HeroX or ShoshinWorks, can step you through the paces of open innovation and tap into the power of the crowd. 

  During her seven years at G.E. Dyan and her team scaled an open innovation and open talent ecosystem, seeing how far they could take the open innovation model. The first trial-run projects, after just three months, resulted in the work equivalent of hiring 558 full-time employees for an entire year. After her exit, Dyan started her own consulting business and has never looked back. And for Kal, in her seventh year at HeroX, it’s been powerful to see how accessible the innovation field has become, watching accomplished professionals undertake the innovation journey every single day of her professional career. 

  This conversation is open between these two very professional, passionate and self-professed 'junkies' of the open innovation movement. Take a peak into their journey on the path toward their respective positions as global leaders in the open innovation space - from the NFL Helmet Challenge and Team Sparkletron to the transformation of the opportunity landscape for open talent within an ecosystem-type business operating model.

🔉 Click to listen 👇


Is Crowdsourcing Complicated? 

Kal - For those of our listeners who are familiar with crowdsourcing, the concept is actually pretty simple but it's so powerful. There isn't a lot of complexity to the whole idea of it, but I think your experience though Dyan - of being in that corporate environment and trying to really navigate such a nuance, a new way of thinking, a new way of moving forward, in an environment that was more than likely very traditional…I'm sure that's where some of your learnings that you brought to ShosinWorks come in.

Dyan - It is so much easier working with a partner that can step you through the paces of open innovation with a partner like HeroX, or even Shoshin, you don't have to have a lot of experience. You just need to have a problem and an appetite for a better outcome. And, there are professionals that can guide you through the process, whether you're new to these types of methodologies or a veteran.

The key is to really just recognize that no single organization has the ability or the reach to hire all the smartest people. Right? And there are brilliant minds out there that can help you think around corners, that can help you find better solutions, generate better ideas, and all you have to do is ask.

The Crowd and Democratizing the Opportunity Landscape 

Kal - In order for organizations to really powerfully keep up with the pace of innovation - and keep their businesses relevant - first of all, if you don't have an overall innovation strategy in place, that's the first place to start but then ensuring that open innovation and crowdsourcing are a key element of that overall strategy is even more critical, because you want to be able to have access to the crowd. 

When Dyan and I talk about crowd we're referencing the over three billion people connected to the world wide web. If you wanted to participate in a challenge and offer your ideas, there's a lot of platforms out there, HeroX being one of them

Then really all you need to compete is connectivity. And that's where the whole idea of democratization is real - because if you have connectivity you can compete. It's just that simple.

Just as easy as it is for innovators to show up and compete, there are really simple processes that guide organizations in really leveraging what that process for crowdsourcing looks like so that you can come out the other end with some fantastic ideas to really move forward with your organization with brand new thought processes without bringing on 100 new people and tapping into their minds.

There Are No Limits to the Type of Work that Can Be Supported

Dyan - We tested open innovation in our legal operations, our I.T., H.R., Finance, and Engineering… and found that the models are so flexible and so easily configurable that there are virtually no limits to the type of work that can be supported with the new open methodologies. You just have to deploy what I've come to refer to as ‘Advanced Work Design’.

If you need to work on more sensitive types of work there are ways to do that with curated crowds, it just takes a little bit of practice and knowledge of the different methodologies; concerns like intellectual property and confidentiality, are valid concerns, but easily managed. It’s important for organizations to understand that there are governance systems that can be implemented to make these tools powerful across the full spectrum of problems that organizations need to solve.

Optimize Business Performance and Elevate the Human Experience 

Dyan - We focus together on optimizing business performance and elevating the human experience and with these open models that is an “and” not an “or” statement. Historically, if you look back to the post-industrial revolution era, where for so many decades the world had business on the assembly line and it was really a function of ratcheting that productivity into the business performance.

For so long organizations have focused on productivity and we've seen business cycles which have driven labor cuts, and then staffing up, and then labor cuts… and really the open models - the ecosystem-based models - that we're deploying give the organization the ability to reach beyond the boundaries of their organizations - to democratize the prosperity pathways for solution providers and to drive better outcomes, abundant outcomes, in a resilient organizational structure.

So for me, I get up in the morning, right, and when I'm working with clients, I'm thinking about what kind of elite problems they're solving and how we can rethink work, the workforce, and the worker experience, for better outcomes using the ecosystem models.

The Crowd is Analogous to the Cloud 

Dyan - Oftentimes that begins with the digital investment and then an evaluation of the flexible resource. To me, the crowd is very analogous to the cloud. The digital infrastructure has transformed very largely to cloud-based infrastructures, and the same I believe will happen with the workforce structure, will see a lot more of a crowd layer that is virtually limitless and extensible, but incredibly powerful.

So that's the work that I'm doing. I'm largely focusing on helping organizations rethink what's possible and shift their operating model from traditional to highly resilient and flexible operating model.

HeroX, the only Social Network for Innovation 

Kal - One of the distinctions - big distinctions actually - with HeroX is that we're positioned as a “social network for innovation”. It's the only place where you can build, grow and communicate with your very own crowd. And what that looks like is; when you host a crowdsourcing project on HeroX you get your very own brand or home page on HeroX. All your projects live there and, more importantly, your crowd stays with you, they don't disperse. So, if you host one challenge, let's just say for the sake of argument, you had 100 people compete on your project. Those 100 people now live on your home page… you host 2,3, maybe 4 more… and now your crowd continues to grow.

You might start with a few 100 or a few 1000… or maybe you can be like NASA who is one of our busiest clients, their crowd is well past 66,000 on HeroX and they have posted over 100 projects. The more you crowdsource, the larger your community gets, very much like LinkedIn, which is where we've drawn the parallel between the open innovation and the social network side. 

Talent has Moved into the Digital Arena 

Dyan - So many organizations these days, to Kal’s point earlier, are feeling the pinch point of the pace of change in markets today. Markets demand that organizations be a little bit more ‘fleet of foot’ if you will, and that has structural implications for companies - public and private institutions. We're seeing the many demands that the digital era places on organizations in terms of speed and foresight, financial soundness… we're seeing really begin to impact operational models.

Organizations are having a tough time finding all the talent that they need and frankly, even though talent is available in abundance, it’s shifted zip code. Talent has moved into the digital arena in the many marketplaces that are available. Supply chains are a touch more fragile. We've seen evidence of that in so many headlines over the past couple of years.

And so we are helping organizations find a more resilient model by deploying crowd-based models into their mainstream operations and that has to be done in a very thoughtful way with the right governance systems. That's the work that we're doing. We're a strategic advisor for organizations that are undertaking an ecosystem model transformation to a more open model, to basically deliver both their innovation and their operational needs.

The Power of Partnering Up

Dyan - We're a strategic advisor for organizations that are undertaking an ecosystem model transformation to a more open model, to basically deliver both their innovation and their operational needs. And it can be a very complex journey for organizations. There are literally hundreds of marketplaces available for organizations to work with. The models available in these marketplaces are incredibly diverse and so you have to know what to look for, you have to work with marketplaces that are mature and proven… and so we help organizations sift through all of that noise of the platform economy, and to understand how to bring in expert crowds like the community at HeroX into their mainstream operations. That requires an alignment of cultural fit, operational fit, governance structures and so it the change management required in that journey is not insignificant. We work with both the marketplace teams and community, as well as the enterprise teams to shape that journey so that it is disruptive, and meaningful, and impactful.

The HeroX Crowd Responds! All You Have to Do is Ask 

Dyan - Yes. My goodness. When HeroX calls the crowd, the crowd responds… talk about a passionate community! This was just a problem series that a lot of folks can get behind, whether you're an avid fan or a data scientist, or a material scientist… there were so many angles in that problem set that the people could get behind and organizations could really attack. So, the crowdsourcing approach was so powerful because there were so many angles that needed help, and that people were very passionate about, so incredibly successful.

The Uncredentialized Crowd 

Kal - They want to learn something new and quite frankly, a lot of them do it because they just tinker at night and they just want to have fun. Architects that have full-time jobs… you know, an architect from Honolulu was one of our winners of a bottle opener challenge for Anheuser Busch. So, creating that content in a way that when we do take it to the crowd is really important and critical in really driving traffic to that challenge page and that's really what the essence of driving crowd and marketing the challenge is all about, making sure that you understand your audience.

What the Pandemic Unlocked: The Crowd as An Extension of Your Team

Dyan - I think the pandemic was both an operational and a psychological unlock for the global community where we all recognized, really overnight into varying degrees, that the world doesn't have to be six feet away in the office, right? on another swivel chair. Our team can be around the world and can collaborate and drive value just as easily as if they were six feet away.

The world suddenly became an extension of your team, operationally. And then the pace of change and the fragility of our old operating systems, I think has really caused business leaders to rethink the way they mobilize ideas, expertise, capacity, and solutions, and very specifically those four pillars of value. And you don't have to have a W2 relationship to be able to make meaningful contributions to the mission of an organization.

Ecosystem Type of Operating Model 

Dyan - Frankly, combining employees with non-employees just creates a really powerful dynamic in solutioning. We're going to see, increasingly, organizations with a very thin layer of on-book strategic resources that are responsible for the strategy and the orchestration of the organization's mission, but who are increasingly creating almost an API-based approach to expertise, solutions, and ideas, and capacity, that is in fact the “global brain” that most of which will sit outside of the organization. These models are absolutely essential and we're only going to see an increasing utilization of an ecosystem type of operating model.

Where the Market is Headed: Are we Parallel to Digital Marketing?

Kal - When I think about crowdsourcing I oftentimes draw parallel to digital marketing and I remember way back in the day when digital marketing showed up, a lot of people saw it as a fad… it was like,” what is this thing, what is this Facebook thing? What is this LinkedIn thing?”, but it wasn't, it was actually a new way to market. In fact, I would probably say that it is the way to market now, and when you take traditional marketing practices, the industry was probably knocked on its side when digital marketing really took off.

It’s not always clear as to how certain business practices are going to support your organization, but there is definitely a missed opportunity if you don't start to actually go in and start doing that discovery, what that due diligence is - because every organization is going to be at a different spot.

If you are interested in open innovation, understanding how it works and its mechanics is just the first step… the most important part is understanding how it fits within your organization, how it will be received, and then setting up a culture for success.


Crowdsourcing Projects Shared in this Episode


Thank you for checking out Episode #5 of the Innovation Heroes series! 

Let's keep the conversation going! Interested in chatting with Adam on an Innovation Heroes segment or recommending a guest? To join the queue, send an email to Attn: Adam. Include your name, email, and topic of interest (you can also use the HeroX contact form). 


About Dyan Finkhousen | Connect

Dyan is the Founder and CEO of Shoshin Works. Valued for her record of creating and scaling transformational business models, serving on advisory boards for Platform and Talent Economy companies and as an advisor and founding member for Open Assembly.

Shoshin’s Expert Operating System unlocks innovation, speed and precision - helping clients eclipse the performance of traditional operating models.

Connect with Dyan: LinkedIn,


About Kal K. Sahota | Connect

Kal is the President and CEO of HeroX. With a passion for open innovation informed by 25 years in corporate finance, Kal is working with stakeholders and organizations to identify the opportunity for open innovation and implementing crowd in their strategic plans.

HeroX is a platform and open marketplace for crowdsourcing innovation that allows anyone, anywhere, to solve everyday business and world challenges using the power of the crowd.

Connect with Kal: LinkedIn,


🔉 About the Innovation Heroes podcast

The Innovation Heroes series covers all things open innovation, crowdsourcing, and remote work. It’s time to open up the airways, share strategies, engage partners, and leverage the power of crowd intelligence to expedite solutions to the pressing problems facing every level of organization, individuals, and the world. The key word here is OPEN. 

We're bringing our partners in innovation, organizations who have run their own crowdsourcing projects, innovator powerhouses, and remote work legends into the spotlight. There is a global network ready to contribute time, energy and intelligence to just about any challenge that comes their way. All we need to do is provide the opportunity. Thank you for being a part of the solution. Discover the Power of the Crowd

  • More episodes - here
  • YouTube playlist - here
  • Subscribe to RSS Feed - here

About Adam Olsen | Connect

Adam is your Podcast Host and Possibilities Manager at HeroX, connecting with innovation leaders from around the world to gain insights on how they approach innovation, the technologies they're most excited about, and how these innovations impact their industries.

HeroX is a platform and open marketplace for crowdsourcing innovation that allows anyone, anywhere, to solve everyday business and world challenges using the power of the crowd.

Connect with Adam: LinkedIn,


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