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Most firms, when tapping consumers for new product ideas, take a one size fits all approach and use the same platform with all consumers. But not all consumers are naturally creative and few have much experience with idea generation. These limitations can water down the value of the ideas they offer up.
Professor Olivier Toubia, working with Lan Luo of the University of Southern California, wanted to develop a way to help firms tease out better ideas from consumers. Research suggests that people who are knowledgeable about an industry tackle problem solving differently than those with less knowledge. High-knowledge consumers typically solve problems better when the problems are subdivided into more focused problems; therefore the researchers predicted that firms should solicit ideas from these consumers by decomposing the problem — describing the broader problem, but then asking consumers to focus on one aspect of that problem, such as ideas for household use, ideas for business use, and so on. On the other hand, low-knowledge individuals typically perform better when provided examples of solutions and then asked to come up with their own. This led the researchers to predict that firms should solicit new ideas from these consumers by offering examples of ideas that others have come up with. The researchers confirmed their predictions in a series of idea generation exercises.