What´s Your Lifeline for Innovation?

Hm, I rarely do watch TV, but “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” is kind of addictive… I came across Stephen´s tweets – and it gives some refreshing input on the show 🙂

by Stephen Shapiro

During dinner the other night, I compared crowdsourcing to the lifelines on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

Imagine you are sitting in the hot seat. The show’s host asks you a question. You are nervous and can’t think straight. You believe you know the answer to the question, but $64,000 is on the line. You are no longer that sure of yourself. You have all of your lifelines. What do you do?

A. Answer the question on your own.
B. Phone a Friend
C. Use the Fifty-Fifty
D. Ask the Audience

Let’s explore each option…


You could of course answer the question on your own (A). You answered the previous 10 questions correctly doing it this way. But the stakes are higher now. Maybe it’s time to get some help.

You could “Phone-A-Friend” (B). Based on the few times I watched the show (admittedly the last time I watched WWTBAM was back in 2001 when was living in England), this option rarely proved reliable. Of course, if your friend has access to Google and can search quickly, then it might be the best option. But if relying solely on brain power, this option is typically a dud. One extra brain helps little.

You could go for the “Fifty-Fifty” (C). Here, two incorrect answers are eliminated, leaving you only two choices. This is a great option. Unfortunately, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, “the answers eliminated were not random but were pre-selected as the ones the contestant was least likely to pick.” Well, that makes things a bit harder.

You could “Ask the Audience” (D). According to Wikipedia, “This is a popular lifeline, known for its near-perfect accuracy. (Regis) Philbin once said that the audience’s answer is statistically 95% of the time correct.” However, my research shows that for more difficult questions, the audience is often clueless. The problem is, everyone answers rather than only those who know the answer. This creates a lot of invalid noise.

In the current version of the show, there are other lifelines, including “Ask the Expert.” You can guess what this is.

Ok, now, imagine you are in the hot seat at work. You are working on a pressing challenge. You think you know the answer. Or maybe you haven’t a clue how to solve it. Regardless, how do you want to bet the company’s money?

Lifelines in Business

You could Phone-A-Friend. That is, you could ask the people around your desk at work. This would most likely improve your chances. (and no, your friend can’t use Google to solve real world problems)

You could do the equivalent of Asking the Audience by requesting, for example, customer feedback. MyStarbucksIdea simulates this concept. Unfortunately, as with the WWTBAM audience, you get a lot of “noise” in the responses because everyone wants to be heard.

You could Ask the Expert. To do this you might partner with a University or hire a consultant. Or maybe you outsource the challenge to a 3rd party who takes responsibility for solving the challenge.

Or maybe there is a hybrid solution. Call it the “Ask the Audience of Experts.” This involves posting a challenge to a group of highly skilled experts; people who have a higher likelihood of solving your problems. You get the viewpoint of many people (much better than Phone-A-Friend), but you also eliminate the “noise” associated with a generic audience. This gives you the added bonus of using a “Fifty-Fifty” lifeline because you end up with fewer “wrong” answers.

Solving challenging problems requires a wide variety of techniques. No one technique is universally correct.

As far as I know, no one has ever won the million dollars on the TV show without using their lifelines. Why should your organization try to win its millions without using the best lifelines available to you?

So, what’s the correct answer? E – All of the above. And yes, that is my final answer.



Stephen Shapiro is the author of three books, a popular innovation speaker, and is the Chief Innovation Evangelist for Innocentive, the leader in Open Innovation. [From What’s Your Lifeline for Innovation?]

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