Latest Tech: How AI Takes ‘Democratized’ Innovation To The Next Level

First, there was crowdsourcing — the idea that everyone has something to contribute to the organization or problem at hand. Can generative AI finesse on this concept, and make it more workable?

The concept of “democratized” innovation came to the forefront with online crowdsourcing and its sibling of idea competitions, which have seen widespread use from product testing to developing applications to run on NASA spacecraft.

At the same time, while most frequently employed for solving simple challenges such as choosing a corporate logos, crowdsourcing suffers from a “lack of trust in the intellectual power of the crowds and their ability to tackle complex problems,” relates Eugene Ivanov of CRDF Global in an analysis at HeroX. Another challenge is confusion between crowdsourcing and “other problem-solving tools, such as brainstorming.”

Enter generative AI-driven innovation, which has the potential to serve as the next step beyond crowdsourcing, helping to synthesize ideas coming from many sources, and tackle complex problems, according to a Harvard Business Review article written by Tojin Eapen, senior fellow at the Conference Board and Daniel Finkenstadt of Wolf Stake Consulting. Generative AI can help promote divergent thinking, challenge expertise bias, assist in idea evaluation, support idea refinement, and facilitate collaboration among users.

In line with earlier efforts at democratized innovation, “it’s not about making final decisions, but leveraging AI to ask better questions,” says Chris Gibson, co-founder and CEO of Recursion. “For example, in our field of drug discovery, we are building our own AI-based tools, but we are also using the tools like those that power ChatGPT to reduce a significant amount of human effort in a variety of everyday tasks that our scientists and drug developers would otherwise spend a lot of time on.”

The key to unlocking the power of AI “is to apply it in an iterative loop of learning and experimentation until you find a path that works well for you,” Gibson adds. “And don’t be afraid to revisit that exploratory process every few months as the technology improves.”

Key to this formula is AI’s emerging role as an assistant — not replacement — to human idea creation. “Humans will always have the edge in ideas, which “serve as the limitless foundation of all innovation and progress,” says Nick Gausling, retail consultant and managing director of Romy Group LLC. “Thinkers, philosophers, and creatives have had a rough time monetizing their work in recent generations, but eventually those will be some of the most-needed skills to effectively wield AI.”

The past year was one of great experimentation with AI. Now, it’s time for the reality checks, says Bob Brauer, founder and CEO of Interzoid. And as with any reality check, some things won’t work out as expected. “The market tests of 2024 will likely lead to numerous failures, from underperformance to delayed entries. Maintaining agility will be vital, as not every venture will thrive, even with concerted efforts.”

We’re only starting to understand the power of AI as a democratizing force in innovation, says Gausling. “But the changes have already gradually started and the savviest innovators are getting ahead of the trend.”

One thing that is becoming evident is AI’s “ability to see through human blind spots,” Gausling points out. He urges “sparring” with AI to uncover new perspectives. “Explain your ideas to the AI like you would a potential investor, provide it with all relevant data and technical information, and ask it to critique and improve upon the idea. It’s very possible that the AI will identify things which never occurred to you.”

It’s not just about democratizing innovation, but also scaling that innovation, Gibson states. “My advice is to build teams and cultures that embrace the power of these tools with a high change-velocity mindset. Having the right mentality is a make-or-break for how individuals and organizations are impacted by these technologies.”

If embraced with a positive and forward-looking mindset, AI “will create a renaissance in creativity,” Gibson adds. “It will supercharge productivity. The leaders and teams who will be best positioned to harness these fast-improving tools are those who intentionally push themselves to experiment and explore.”

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