Ask the Audience

Traditionally, firms had to rely mainly on their employees to solve any problems. However, with the increased popularity of crowd-based ideation contests, in which “seekers” engage “solvers” to come up with solutions to creativity and innovation-related problems, this is no longer the case. Various studies show that outside solvers are capable of developing promising ideas in these contests—in fact, at times, outside solvers can be more effective in solving underlying problems than the professionals in the company. It is therefore crucial that seekers understand how their involvement in contests shapes solvers’ ideation and the resulting solutions. For one, seekers have to strategically set prizes to said competitions, since the attractiveness of the prizes can affect solvers’ efforts and performance. In addition, seekers should be careful with the information they provide. While contest platforms often encourage seekers to provide information (such as examples of ideas that they prefer) to help with ideation and provide direction, doing so could also lead to constraints and result in close-minded ideas.

With this in mind, a recent study by Tat Koon Koh explores two interesting research questions: the antecedents of exemplar adoption in terms of seekers’ exemplars and prizes, and the consequences of exemplar adoption. Looking at the first question, “seekers have substantial control over the exemplar characteristics and prizes in their contests, and these aspects of seeker involvement can influence the ideation process from contest initiation as they are made known to solvers at the beginning”. Specifically, the study relates exemplar characteristics and prizes to three factors pertaining to solvers’ exemplar adoption: contest winning, effort economisation, and prize attractiveness. In contrast, other forms of seeker involvement, such as providing feedback, occur after solvers have already begun the process. As such, knowing how the quantity and variability of exemplars and the attractiveness of prizes affect exemplar adoption can help the strategic involvement of seekers in their contests. In terms of the second question, one of the main reasons for seekers’ using contests is to obtain effective solutions to their problems. Therefore, the study decided to look at how solvers’ exemplar adoption impacts the effectiveness of the resulting ideas. Because solvers have varying levels of experience and expertise, the study proposed that “the effect of exemplar adoption on solution effectiveness depends on solvers’ domain experience”.

To answer the questions, the author conducted three studies. In Study A, solvers were recruited to generate ideas in a company naming contest, with contest prize and examples of words that the hypothetical seeker liked for the company name being manipulated. In Study B, a contest was hosted in which solvers designed banner ads for an online directory. Here, although the exemplars of the ad designs that the hypothetical seeker provided were manipulated, the prizes were fixed and solvers were instead asked for their perception of prize attractiveness. The results of the two studies showed that “exemplar quantity and variability both positively impacted exemplar adoption, although the impacts were strengthened and weakened, respectively, by prize attractiveness”. In Study C, the consequences of exemplar adoption on solution effectiveness were examined. By using a real-world ad campaign to measure the click-through performance of the ads from Study B, it was found that ads which “adopted seeker exemplars to a larger extent performed better in the campaign, but the effect was negatively moderated by solvers’ domain experience”.

Although seekers’ decisions about the exemplars to provide and the prizes to offer may be independent from each other, the study shows that certain aspects of these decisions jointly affect solver behaviours. In addition, while existing literature finds that seekers can shape solver behaviour as ideas are submitted during contests, the present study reveals that seekers can exert their influence, through their exemplars and prizes, even before any ideas have been created. Overall, the research highlights that seekers do indeed play an active role in how and what solvers ideate, and draws attention to the moderating roles of solver heterogeneity in ideation contests.

The author finished by saying that future research might want to investigate how solvers’ intrinsic motivations affect their behaviours in response to seeker involvement, and how contrasting idea and contest-level impacts of exemplar adoption play out in ideation contests.


Program Director, Global Business Program, Associate Professor
Information Systems, Business Statistics & Operations Management