BP to InnoCentive: Sorry, We Don't Want Your 908 Ideas for Saving the Gulf

Gulf oil spill

As we've noted before, there is no shortage of ideas when it comes to containing the Gulf oil spill. But what if you were BP, and you received almost 1,000 ideas proposed by a massive, global network of people who actually specialize in this kind of thing? You'd at least look at them right? Not a chance. BP has just refused 908 potential solutions provided by InnoCentive, an online crowdsourcing community.

Since 2006—and before that as part of Eli Lilly—InnoCentive has recruited corporations which sponsor crowdsourcing challenges for its over 200,000 "solvers." This group has tackled heavy issues for organizations like Proctor & Gamble and NASA, ranging from tuberculosis prevention to even successfully cleaning up another oil spill in Alaska. As of this week, InnoCentive's 908 solutions, proposed by scientists, engineers, and doctors all over the world—61% of solvers have Ph.Ds or masters degrees—included solutions inspired by angioplasty to a giant funnel made by tensile Teflon fabric.

When InnoCentive launched the challenge on their site April 30, they witnessed the fastest-ever response to a challenge in the history of the company. CEO Dwayne Spradlin was especially thrilled about the response because it was InnoCentive's first-ever sponsorless problem. "This is first challenge we've issued with no cash inducement," he tells FastCompany.com. "But in a crisis situation we thought our network would get involved because it was the right thing to do." Over 1,000 solvers registered to work on the challenge and Spradlin fielded a flood of phone calls and emails, even FedEx packages containing diagrams and alternative material samples.

On June 5, InnoCentive reached out to BP with the assistance of partners like the White House and Nature. BP offered an indication of interest and named two places of where InnoCentive could best help: remote sensing of oil and better skimming technology. InnoCentive passed this along to its community. But after that, BP was unsettlingly silent. "It has been a little bit frustrating, says Spradlin. "We have been going back and forth with government agencies and BP. It has taken a fairly long time." On June 19, BP finally indicated to InnoCentive they would not be needing their assistance, noting that it was "too complex and burdensome to add to already overstretched workdays." Spradlin says that sharing InnoCentive's ideas would cost BP nothing.

As another containment dome fails in the Gulf, Spradlin is sitting on almost 1,000, potentially more reliable solutions. But the one silver lining in all this is that Spradlin has realized InnoCentive's potential for mobilizing its fleet of solvers for emergencies in the future. He thinks of this experience as a wake-up call for their crowdsourcing network. "We know we've got an ability to tap bright minds in a variety of crisis situations," he says. "We know we've got the right tools to get people connected. Now we can prewire some of these things that will allow us to use them on demand."


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  • Dennis__ferhr

    You guys are right, why should we bother trying to improve the way we do things we have great ways now why challenge the status quo? After all, the world is flat, the America's don't exist, human flight is impossible, the interstate system isn't cost effective and the computer is a waste of time but, I'm sure BP has a good solution too....

  • Brian Glassman

    This is a lesson on innovation,
      If the customer doesn't want innovation, then their is no point in creating it for them.
    Here BP was faced with a technical engineering challenge that thousands of Oil Engineers in Houston and Dallas were qualified and experience in dealing with, and not to mention had existing tried and true solutions.

    Why would BP want to risk complicating the situation with untried solutions? Especially when only one solution can be tested every 3 days? and many take weeks to manufacture?


  • mmh

    It's a naive kind of view to think BP should take these innovations and actually use them. These ideas are all very good in theory, but the expense of trying to build these things and assemble them into a workable process.

    With a problem like this you want to use materials you know about and processes you know about, let these new ideas mature and see if they work in a few years time when there is not the 'pressure' to do anything about it in an emergency. Any of these Deng, phd and masters who have any industrial experience will know this stuff takes a long time of development before it gets used.

    Also ok it's in the states , but what about Nigeria, that place has been royally done by oil companies over the years, no ones making a big hu ha about that though?

  • Sam Basta

    Innocentive stopped the crowdsourcing too soon. It is not very helpful to give someone in crisis a few good ideas burried in haystack of 1000 ideas. They should have created the next challenge of evaluating the 1000 ideas, picking the best ones, cross pollinating them and then narrowing the options into a handful of truly great practical ideas.
    Sam Basta
    Healthcare Innovation by Design

  • grier

    It's a shame that BP are afraid to engage even one idea from the innocentive community. It's surprising and shameful. But at this point, hardly out of character.

    It did occur to me that the idea of crowd-sourcing when presented with emergency situations is a brilliant idea - but if after possible solutions are submitted they are then ham-strung by either corporate or bureaucratic lethargy, or just plain old stooopidity, how do we get good things done, if they're ignored or move at the speed of moss growing?

  • mycatismykid

    yet one more thing....

    if you google "oil spill bullcrap"

    they paid enough money to make sure they are not a sponsored link at the top of the page.

    These guys are good.

  • mycatismykid

    here's another kicker on top of all this....

    google "oil spill" and any other content.

    BP has PAID for the priviledge to be the topmost entry on the search engine.....front and center.....are you kidding me ?

  • mycatismykid

    At what point, did BP think that blowing off a company that was introduced to them (or pushed to) by the Whitehouse, was a good idea ? Innocentive was on "Hardball" w/Matthews, where he said if anyone in the admin was listening, that they should interact w/this company.

    So...here's how I would play it if I were Innocentive. Find the best companies out there for floatation detection services and skimmer remediation, then offer for free, those brilliant ideas.

    Hopefully at the end of the day...something will come to fruition here, and the final invoice for the usage of these ideas will be sent to ??? BP..........who could have had it for free to begin with.

    What arrogance.

  • Marlena Witek

    When the BP can not cope with the problem threatening people, and life, others have a voice. This is the fundamental rights of citizens. Projects stop the leakage, (on Youtube) are stupid! Nobody who is not an engineer would do such a project! For me it is suspicious. This is a great tragedy and I read such things? What is happening ?????

    M. ESLN

  • James McLeod

    [repost from SeaWuf on FaceBook]

    BP continues its ritual of bad decisions.

    I recommend reading the Fast Company article (above) reporting where 1000 minds (of InnoCentive) produced 908 ideas based on cleaning up the oil spill and BP doesn't want to consider any of them? Too complex? Too burdensome? Too busy? What the f^ck?

    Even knowing they were never going to use any of the ideas, BP should have accepted the proposals, thanked everybody accordingly, and then put them in a desk drawer where nobody will ever them find again.... See More

    It's no wonder they're spending $50+ million on PR. There's nobody in control so they keep shooting themselves in the foot (or, is that feet?).

    Maybe the Govt. should have placed BP's cleanup efforts in the hands of a 'neutral' third party rather than giving BP the sole responsibility of the cleanup. At least someone was clear-headed enough to realize BP couldn't handle the $20 billion restitution themselves.

    I don't think we can afford to have BP make any more bad decisions.