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Open Platform for Idea Generation : Idea Democracy


In a world that has becoming increasingly democratic, ideas are still the prerogative of the “idea man”, such as a creative director in an advertising agency. Given that in the recent years some of the best ideas have come from youngsters working on their projects in cafes or garages, one could say that digital technology and internet have become the great leveler. Whether it be community product development platforms like Quirky or a platform for communal development of ideas around social change like Open IDEO, the decision makers out there understand and accept the force behind the power of community driven ideas. Crowdsourced idea development comes with its own set of problems but a streamlined business strategy can help develop an efficient model of growth that stays true to the core of idea generation and creative thinking. Idea Democracy by Rohit Misra and Chetan Mangat is a step in that direction.

Why Idea Democracy? 
Rohit comes from an advertising background, he worked in the industry for just over 20 years with global agencies in India and overseas like Ogilvy, JWT, Euro RSCG and Y&R. During the course of his long career in ad agencies, Rohit realized that great ideas could come from anywhere. In the advertising business which is widely driven by reputation he felt that there was a disconnect between reputation and delivery. He states that there were instances where the work coming out of senior creative teams at big agencies with 30 to40 years of experience between them did not have the same level of creativity as someone who just graduated from college. Rohit talks about an office receptionist who walked up to him and told him that she couldn’t help overhearing his conversation with the creative team and wanted to contribute ideas to the project as well. That got him thinking. Could the idea generation and communication process be made more democratic? That is when Idea Democracy was born.

Rohit believes that there are people with imagination and creativity all around us. Some have the good fortune to go to good schools and work in creative professions but there are tons of people who do not have that benefit but they have fantastic ideas. The basic premise of Idea Democracy is that there is a way to harness such creativity and channel it towards directing business solutions. He explains that there are companies like IDEO who are doing it for social good but there aren’t any people who are doing it to address brand issues.

How does Idea Democracy work? 
Idea Democracy has a layered offering and Idea Projects are broken into three kinds of engagements. Work that isn’t so labor or time intensive like logo design follow the traditional Idea Contest model. The client comes on board and puts out a brief, indicates the budget and designers submit ideas which the client gets to choose from.

As the client moves up the value chain, they now have a logo and would now like to create a website for their business. That requires an IdeaContract. The client needs to select an individual before they can get the idea. The criteria for selection are many including selecting someone who understands the aesthetic and design needs of the project. IdeaContracts are awarded on the basis of profile, portfolio and past experience. Rohit explains, “There is no pitching involved. This is like a short term gig. I want someone to design a website, I want someone to voice over a film for me, I want someone to record a jingle for me”.

Idea Challenges is something Rohit and Chetan are both very excited about and this is on top of the value chain. This is where collaborative thinking is leveraged.

Take for an example, an Indian brand that was acquired by a huge multinational company, where this local brand was being ignored by the mother ship as far as any idea generation was concerned. Rohit thought it might be a great idea to engage the loyal customers of that local brand to create engagement ideas and strategy. “That is the kind of stuff where an Idea Challenge would shine”, he says.

A challenge could look like ‘A leading XYZ brand in India is looking for ideas to connect with consumers within the age group of 18 to 24’. Idea Democracy would initiate and facilitate an online brainstorm session following a four step process. Where the first step is getting everyone on the same page, understanding the brief, understanding what the challenge is. The second is an idea starter phase which collects inspiration by looking for other brands facing similar problems. Third is the connecting phase where you actually get people to come up with concepts keeping in mind the brief and the ideas generated in the inspiration phase. The final phase is the shortlisting phase where the concepts are evaluated in reference to the brief and certain principles.

“This is a huge opportunity to do exciting work and for brands to get consumer created solutions”, Rohit says.

As of now, Idea Democracy has done one Idea Contest. They have just launched  their first Idea Contract where they are looking for a front end developer to develop a website. At some point they plan to launch an Idea Challenge as well.

Rohit brought up a very interesting point around the comparisons that could be made between Idea Democracy and Open IDEO. “Even though both the projects are very similar in approach, the rationale behind both the projects is different. Open IDEO is an experiment in collaborative problem solving which leverages the IDEO brand as the primary benefit and the consumer participation is the secondary benefit”, he explained. That is not the case for Idea Democracy.

I brought up the point around Idea Democracy being used for ethnographic research by foreign companies to better understand consumers in places they want to invest in. To which Rohit responded how this could even work the other way round. For example Airtel which was a Delhi based telecom service provider up until a few years ago and now the 5th largest telecom company in the world, the challenge for brand communications had gone from speaking to consumers in India to a worldwide consumer audience. “This is a huge opportunity for Indian brands to get a good understanding of other markets that they are entering”, he stated.

The Lean Team and Baby Steps 
Rohit mentions that it is overall a fairly lean, flexible model. They are currently bootstrapping the project and plan to pick up the costs till they start seeing some revenue. Rohit works out of his home in Bangalore and Chetan runs a design agency called Blank and Co in New York.

Idea Democracy wanted to prove a crowd creativity model with their own business so they ran a contest to design their present logo. They put out another competition for the homepage and got ideas around that. Two weeks ago they ran their first client project which is for a company in the discovery commerce space. The company wanted to get their brand identity going. The initial number of entries was close to 75. A young designer from Philippines was selected as the winner. He was awarded the $1000 fee.

Crowdsourcing and Creativity 
In response to a question around the discontent within designers around speculative design, Rohit mentioned that Idea Democracy could not be compared to the other sites in this realm like 99 designs and DesignCrowd. He felt that these speculative design platforms had found a way to convert the creative process to an automated delivery oriented process alone, where fun and creativity was being made into something very delivery oriented. He explained that people cannot give away ideas for free and it was not possible to fit everything into a contest either, especially when one started to move up the value chain. No one could expect people to produce websites for free or shoot videos and films for free. The other drawback that he talked about was the client creative interaction which these sites did away with. When idea Democracy was envisioned, they decided to address all these challenges that crowd creativity poses. Doing that meant unlocking the massive potential in this market and doing it in a better way than the competition.

Unlike traditional crowdsourcing platforms for design where the users and the community revolve around freelance graphic designers, the users for Idea Democracy are an interesting set of people. People range from an origami specialist to one of India’s leading DJ. The challenge now is to keep these people interested and motivated. A lot of people are also drawn to the idea because of the name. There are 20% of core users who are hardcore graphic designers and then there are 80 percent of users who’ve just found something interesting about the idea.

The model for Idea Democracy is not to go out there and solicit money in a traditional manner but to create a viable working model with a revenue stream that has been established and then look for capital as a way to grow the business and maybe have some paid for advertising as well.

Brands and Crowdsourced Creativity 
There are Indian brands out there that have tied up with crowdsourcing platforms. Reliance has partnered with Talent House, a crowdsourced creative collaboration tool and they are crowd creating things like No Doubts latest album cover. Mahendra’s Rise is a mix of leveraging community driven design ideas for social good and betterment. It is tied to Mahendra’s corporate platform to do better things.

In response to whether Idea Democracy would partner with a big brand, Rohit replied, “Do we want to be Idea Democracy that is crowd led or do we want to be endorsing one of these above brands. The minute you tie up with a large business house, the objectives and motivations change”. I ended our very insightful conversation thinking that I couldn’t agree more.

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