“No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.”
Bill Joy, Founder, Sun Microsystems
Though this quote may sound like defeatism, there is another way of looking at it: as a rallying cry to tap into the collective experience and enthusiasm available outside your organization.
With access to fast data connections approaching universality in much of the developed world – and growing fast elsewhere – it is possible for enterprises to harness the crowd to help solve a wide mix of challenges on an industrial scale. Access to open source talent is growing in scale, sophistication and importance as an alternative staffing model.
The attraction isn’t simply reducing cost, either – crowdsourcing offers quick access to specialized resources and the ability to scale up or down almost instantly.
Of course businesses have a rich history of trying to tap into crowds, using consumer surveys, focus groups, and experiential marketing to provoke customer engagement. All that has changed is the scope and the opportunity.
Got a problem? Get a crowd.
The business applications of crowdsourcing run the gamut from simple tasks to complex solutions:
Simple, task-oriented crowdsourcing.
Language translation services, data entry, photograph tagging and transcription are popular items that allow large workloads to be split across remote workforces with no geographic restrictions
Complex, experience-based crowdsourcing.
Complex tasks require abstract thinking, specialized skill sets, and sophisticated problem solving by diverse, qualified individuals, from software engineers and data scientists to artists, designers and hobbyists with advanced academic degrees or industry experience. Tasks typically require not just scale but also creative problem solving, with the goal of achieving breakthroughs to old problems through innovative thinking.
Open-ended, idea-generating crowdsourcing.
These applications involve challenges oriented around invention, idea generation, and product and brand innovation. Breakthroughs may come from specialists or, increasingly, from the general public.
Funding, consumption, and contribution crowdsourcing.
Large enterprises should be aware of three other models of crowdsourcing that are gaining momentum. The first is crowdfunding, in which entrepreneurs solicit sponsorship from the masses, looking for support or capital to develop ideas, products and businesses. Indiegogo and Kickstarter are two of many platforms in this space. Collaborative consumption models have also emerged, in which certain assets are available “as a service” to the crowd. Automobiles through Uber and lodging through Airbnb are two examples. Finally, we’re seeing platforms where the crowd contributes ideas and information, sharing knowledge that could be useful to others. The open source software movement and Wikipedia are based on this model.
Where do you start?
Trusting the crowd with your problems may not seem to be compatible with your data security and compliance, or with your company’s general ethos. But every company can find areas in which to experiment – perhaps in surprising places: the mining company Goldcorp shared its top-secret geological data with the crowd, offering $500,000 for finding six million ounces in untapped gold. This $500,000 investment yielded $3 billion in new gold in one year.
Though crowdsourcing is still in its early stages, today’s online platforms are sophisticated enough to help your company solve many kinds of problems. The potential for disruptive impact on cost alone means it is worth exploring for many companies. More important is the fact it can expand your reach to engage talent to help with a wide range of needs. It’s important your organization has the ability to embrace new ideas that may be generated through crowdsourcing initiatives. That means industrializing not just for scale and reach but also for outcome.