How do we solve problems? How do we think of innovation, get new ideas, and think beyond the suggestion box?

Karen Furtado, a partner with the research and consulting firm Strategy Meets Action (SMA) has been asking those questions herself and believes that the creative process for forming, developing, and communicating new ideas—the process known as ideation—can be used at all levels of problem-solving and new product design for the insurance industry.

“What I like about it is it humanizes the whole process,” says Furtado. “We usually talk about software and innovation, but this is a platform that brings people together.”

Furtado has written: Ideation and Crowdsourcing Power: Expanding Idea Generation in Insurance, an SMA Insights Report.

“Last December, a friend of mine who works in healthcare used a technology to reinvent their mission, ambition, and values,” says Furtado. “They chose to use a crowd-sourcing tool. I began reading about it and conceptually began to think about the power of the Internet and the power of the social network. It is just plain scary how fast you can get results. I met up with the company—IDEO—and came to find out that there are a number of very large successful insurers using these technologies.”

The strategy is to get the non-managers to participate in these crowdsourcing activities because they can receive company-wide recognition. The president of the company will know who the call center person is because if that person comes up with an idea that would have a huge impact on the company.

“If you go to a meeting with just 10 people and ask each person to bring an idea, each of those ideas could be good by itself, but you probably come out of the meeting with a completely different idea because collaborating on ideas is better and it makes the group idea much stronger than an individual idea,” says Furtado. “Collaboration is the power behind this to raise the level of an idea.”

In crowd-sourcing, Furtado explains everyone gets to vote to see which idea will have the higher impact. “It’s not decided by a few,” she says. “At the end of the day I’m thrilled it’s back to being about people.”

The companies that Furtado has observed using this crowd sourcing thought process typically have an upper management that is supportive and looks for participation. She explains a company can have a customer service person put an idea out and the next person to jump on is a general manager.

“It’s completely flat in terms of responsibility,” she says. “The manager is not going to have more weight than the person who just spoke with a customer. Companies have a vested interest in the outcome and they tend to want to collaborate to get the best ideas. They are participatory on the platforms. Typically you throw out an issue you are trying to deal with, you create an idea, and people rally around that concept or that issue and try to create a resolution.”

Change has become an integral part of life in most industries as technology has created new tasks for workers and eliminated others.

“I think change should be done with respect to the past, but even with a technology like this I can’t think of many in insurance who are going beyond their four walls to do crowdsourcing,” says Furtado. “Who has the best insight into what’s going on with your customers? The call center. So how do you get their insight and their information to find out that you need to be making changes?”

Furtado explains this is a different way to deal with problem solving or idea generation.

“Remember the idea box? It was all done in seclusion,” she says. “It was not collaborative at all. I think it is interesting that we have a lot of technology that drives us to be individualistic, but if you look at gaming, those apps that cause us to work as a group seem to take on a life of their own.”

She points to the Words with Friends game where people are re-connecting with others

“It is amazing how many people I see doing this all the time,” says Furtado. “It’s interesting that as humans we look for connectivity to other people and that’s like the next maturity of technology—those technologies that bring people together and not have them do individual tasks. With the war games, people are up for hours playing with or against each other. Those have much more traction. I just think we’ve reached the next level of maturity in technology and it’s the more humanizing factors that are releasing the power of human intellect.”