Deviant behavior in customer ideation contests : essays on co-creation with consumers

  • Abweichendes Verhalten in Ideenwettbewerben: Forschungspapiere zu kollaborativer Entwicklung mit Konsumenten

Holz, Alexandra; Piller, Frank Thomas (Thesis advisor); Wentzel, Daniel (Thesis advisor)

Aachen (2019)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, 2019


Literature on innovation management has experienced a paradigm shift away from internal research and development (R&D) activities only towards the collaboration with external stakeholders for so-called ‘open innovation’. Organizations utilize open innovation to leverage several benefits, such as external knowledge advantages and outsiders’ trust. Especially customers are seen as an important source for interesting ideas. Therefore, companies are using methods like ideation contests to reach out to their customers and let them contribute their ideas in online platforms to solve the companies’ innovation tasks. While this open call for collaboration has been shown to deliver valuable input for the innovation process, co-creation can also be risky. Problems arise when consumers post contributions that range from incongruous to the contest subject or its host to obscene and illegal. I apply the term deviant content to describe such contributions. Reports in the trade press indicate that the rate of unexpected and unwanted ideas generated through co-creation is increasing while managers are struggling with unwanted content not knowing how to react. The objective of my research is to describe the phenomenon of deviant co-creation and to study its relevance and impact by, developing a theoretical foundation of deviant co-creation, identifying and empirically illustrating patterns of deviant content and their impact, studying how managers of ideation contests characterize deviant content, how they build their preference regarding deviant content, and how they decide about appropriate reactions within the platform and regarding the internal utilization of deviant ideas, and identifying metrics managers’ use for the assessment of deviant ideas and examining their influence on managers’ innovation outcome perception. Essay 1 reports the results from a netnography study to define the phenomenon of deviant co-creation in ideation contests. The study reveals that deviance has the potential to activate others. Deviant content usually bewilders evaluators and draws their attention to the content. Destructive deviant content may trigger visible and malicious protests on the contest platform and social media, thereby exposing the contest host to reputational risks. Constructive deviant content can lead to positive discussions, as well as foster further development of an initial idea, thereby contributing to the firm’s innovation potential. The second essay employs a grounded theory approach drawing on a set of interviews undertaken with 11 innovation managers, to explore managers’ preference formation and reaction towards deviant content as well as the influencing factors during these decision moments. First of all, the study reveals that managers assess deviant content differently, providing evidence to the uncertainty that deviant content generates. By conceptualizing the decision process in ideation contests, I can show that deviant content provokes a shift of the managers’ decision making mode from automatic/intuitive to deliberate/complex and demonstrate how and when boundary conditions impact the individual decision-making process. Essay 3 focuses on the evaluation of deviant ideas stemming from customer-co-creation. I am conducting a quantitative survey with innovation managers to better understand if classical evaluation metrics are suitable to predict managers’ innovation outcome perception regarding deviant ideas. The study reveals that managers tend to rely on evaluation metrics like ‘creativity’, ‘relevance’ and ‘feasibility’. These metrics seem all together suitable to distinguish between clearly destructive deviant ideas and highly relevant ideas; however, they seem not perfectly suitable if the boundary between destructive and constructive is blurry. My research provides a more balanced view on co-creation by highlighting potential negative outcomes as well as illustrating the nature of deviant content and the arising challenges of managing ideation contests and utilizing its outcomes. These results challenge previous research on open innovation with customers which has outlined the positive effects of using ideation contests. However, next to the destructive activation of co-creators, I also see the potential of a constructive activation. I argue that the ideas created due to the constructive activation are more distant from the organization’s perspective and therefore trigger the decision maker to switch from the automatic/intuitive to the deliberate/complex decision mode. My results furthermore show that this deliberate/complex decision mode can be applied to distinguish between clearly destructive deviant ideas and highly relevant ideas. However, in cases where the boundary between destructive and constructive is blurry, a deliberate decision mode does not seem suitable as it does not sufficiently depict the numerous nuances of deviant as well as highly creative ideas consisting of several layers of interpretation. Consequently, my dissertation underscores the complementary approach of using both, a high-quality, rational decision-making process, but also intuitive decision-making for seeing the key issues quickly.


  • Chair of Technology and Innovation Management (TIM) [812710]