Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Organizational Learning with Crowdsourcing: The Revelatory Case of LEGO

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Organizational Learning with Crowdsourcing: The Revelatory Case of LEGO

Article excerpt


Extant organizational learning theory conceptualizes organizational learning as an internal, member-based process, sometimes supported by, yet often independent of, IT. Recently, however, several organizations have begun to involve non-members systematically in their learning by using crowdsourcing, a form of open innovation enabled by state-of-the-art IT. We examine the phenomenon of IT-enabled organizational learning with crowdsourcing in a longitudinal revelatory case study of one such organization, LEGO (2010-14). We studied the LEGO Cuusoo crowdsourcing platform's secret test in Japan, its widely recognized global launch, and its success in generating top-selling LEGO models. Based on an analysis of how crowdsourcing contributes to the organizational learning at LEGO, we propose the "ambient organizational learning" framework. The framework accommodates both traditional, member-based organizational learning and IT-enabled, non-member-based organizational learning with crowdsourcing.

Keywords: LEGO, Crowdsourcing, Open Innovation, Organizational Learning, Case Study.

1. Introduction

This paper analyses crowdsourcing as contributing to organizational learning, a hitherto neglected aspect of crowdsourcing. We conducted a longitudinal analysis of the LEGO Cuusoo platform in order to theorize about the relationship between crowdsourcing and organizational learning. On this platform, fans were able to propose LEGO-specific ideas that we subsequently systematically evaluated, and, if positively evaluated, LEGO actually implemented them1.

Many startups have used "crowdsourcing" as an IT-enabled coordination and collaboration mechanism at the core of their business (e.g., Brabham, 2010; Giles, 2005; Kuppuswamy & Bayus, 2013). In these cases, crowdsourcing might be seen as the foundation of new business models dedicated to crowdsourcing. More recently, however, large and established organizations across industries have also used crowdsourcing as a means to learn and innovate (e.g., Gallaugher & Ransbotham, 2010; Leimeister, Huber, Bretschneider, & Krcmar, 2009; Tapscott & Williams, 2006). This suggests that crowdsourcing may present a general, new mode of learning that can be embraced by many or most organizations. LEGO is often cited as a poster child example of a large and established organization that successful implemented crowdsourcing (Antorini, Muñiz, & Askildsen, 2012; Lakhani, Lifshitz-Assaf, &Tushman, 2013; Robertson & Breen, 2013).

Even though it is relevant for both practitioners and scholars, "How can organizations use crowdsourcing for their learning?" is one of the less-explored questions in crowdsourcing. We tackle this question by analyzing an in-depth, longitudinal revelatory case study (Flyvbjerg, 2004; Yin, 2013) of LEGO. LEGO provides an early and prominent case of a large, established organization that has achieved an advanced, systematic implementation of crowdsourcing to enhance its learning. We worked with LEGO over several years (2010-14) to study how LEGO implemented and learnt from crowdsourcing.

For scholars, the paper contributes to organizational learning theory and our understanding of crowdsourcing. To our knowledge, our study presents the first attempt to understand the crowdsourcing phenomenon from an organizational learning perspective. In this paper, we discuss IT- enabled, non-member-based organizational learning with crowdsourcing as different from, yet complementary to, traditional, member-based organizational learning. We propose "ambient organizational learning" as a theoretical framework that integrates both learning types. This paper will hence be of interest to scholars working in the areas of crowdsourcing and/or organizational learning.

For practitioners, our analysis of the LEGO case contributes knowledge regarding the why and how of crowdsourcing. The analysis reveals the benefits and learnings that LEGO achieved through crowdsourcing. …

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