Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists


In the Ins of the Outs of Crowdsourcing

Wednesday 27 February 2013

In tracking shifts across the world and across industries, the rise of Crowdsourcing continues to unleash some amazing innovations in products and services. Importantly it is exposing the capability gaps that even large organisations have. Simply put, the 'crowd' is always going to be bigger than your business or organisation. But to tap that latent capability effectively requires some mental (and occasionally structural) shifts. Here's a few ideas you can jump onto today:

To garner any lasting benefits from Crowdsourcing, going ‘out there’ needs internal trust.  Without that trust much energy will be expended by a few people, only to see potentially business changing ideas fall on to infertile soil. There are some key things that your organisation must understand when it moves toward tapping the crowd.

Bringing ideas in from the out needs a filtering process

1. All ideas are good, some are more good than others. 

This means that you must have a formal acknowledgement system in place as in “thanks for your idea, there’s some good merit in it and we might be able to apply it at some point but not right now”

Other ideas need a more direct response “thanks for your idea, at the moment we can’t see a place for it in our existing portfolio”

And some ideas require you to make a direct phone call or note of thanks to start a more involved conversations and relationship. These would usually be ideas that have immediate applicability. Regardless of the immediate benefits or otherwise, building a relationship of respect and trust requires you to acknowledge the thinking and input of people from the crowd. As many organizations have discovered to their horror – crowds talk and negative talk can suddenly become a public relations disaster. You must treat your Crowd like any other valued member of your organisation’s team.

2. Crowd sourcing offers organisations like yours a chance to build a testbed case.

It is an opportunity to try concepts out that crowd has provided to you.  There are 2 main ways I recommend:

A) try a crowd sourced idea in a safe area that has a low-cost of resources and process change or

B) try a crowd sourced idea with one of your organisation’s intractable problems.

In the 1st idea you are looking to apply the concept where you have low-cost of people and low-cost process.  With low-cost of people this includes time, money, and available support to enact the idea that’s been brought in from the outside.  The challenge for organisations is automatically jumping to action on any new crowdsourced idea that looks interesting which is why the filtering process is critical.  Instead your organisation must always balance the implementation of an idea with the Capabilities available to it.

With the 2nd approach, you utilise the Capabilities of the crowd to generate solutions to problems that you have been unable to solve yourself.  The outstanding example of the Foldit!  Community solving the enzyme challenge for HIV is one well-known impact of effective crowdsourcing.

So what key Crowdsourcing components are needed?

The initial phase requires your organisational management to accept the possibility of talking to the outside world.  Where crowdsourcing enables you to access a whole range of capabilities, it is often the internal barrier of approval to access the outside ideas, that prevents the full benefits of crowdsourcing being available to your organisation.

In my innovation workshops I usually discuss the idea of “permission to change”.  This is an explicit statement of intention within the organisation that enables people to pursue something different, in different ways, and for different outcomes.  Without that explicit permission to change, crowdsourcing initiatives will likely fail.  This is why utilising the ‘safe area’ is the easiest step for organisations to take in their crowdsourcing journey.

It is also useful to understand that very few organisations are starting from scratch.  If your organisation has outsourced any of its productive capacity and built a supply chain or network of relationships through that process, or in-sourced some capability through temporary and contractor hiring, it is likely you already have the key basic building blocks for moving towards a crowdsourcing approach.

In both instances, your organisation has established an ability to talk to the outside world and rely on the outside world to produce something you require.  The difference between crowdsourcing and normal reliance on a selected contractor or part of the supply chain, is that the crowd is much bigger, much wider and has much greater capability.  Because of that increased capacity, management of crowdsourcing can seem daunting at first, but there’s really no need for it to be any different than how you would approach a typical supplier arrangement.

So where to begin?

Take a thumb sketch view of your organisation’s ability to call for assistance, speak to, and relate with, the outside world.

Next, ensure that you have a ready platform that allows you to ask for and respond to ideas.  If you already have a social media platform, it is likely you have the skill sets you require to tap the ever growing capabilities of crowdsourcing.

Be clear on which approach you plan to take and ensure that you have the explicit ‘permission to change’ or ‘permission to crowdsource’ statements widely distributed and understood across your organisation.

Finally, set realistic expectations from your initial crowdsourcing endeavours.  You may hit a home run on your first attempt, however it is more likely that in the initial stages you will be building up your internal and external capability to understand how crowdsourcing can become a source of innovation, change and evolution for your business.

And one final word of caution: the crowd ‘outside’ probably thinks very differently from how you think – that difference is neither good nor bad, just different.  You will learn as much from the crowd, as the crowd can learn from you.  Your key challenge is to begin

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