Government // Enterprise Architecture
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9/19/2013
05:19 PM
Narinder Singh
Narinder Singh
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Crowdsourcing: Pick The Brains Of World's Best

Crowdsourcing is an affordable way to quickly test a slew of ideas and technologies so you can fail early and ultimately pick the best idea.

20 Great Ideas To Steal In 2013
20 Great Ideas To Steal In 2013
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Author Thomas Friedman once wrote, "Do you know what my favorite renewable fuel is? An ecosystem for innovation."

He was referring to broader national policy, but the same can be applied to individual companies. Too often, companies fail to develop ecosystems that support innovation and instead rely on sporadic efforts to keep up with industry disruption.

This has always been the case for large organizations, but it has compounded during the last decade because smaller companies that create disruption have declining fixed costs due to cloud, social and mobile technologies. This is especially true of consumer-facing innovation.

Timelines for B2B innovation have also compressed, but still take much longer. In fact, the fastest way for technologies to infiltrate businesses is often by affecting their employees as consumers. Nevertheless, Salesforce.com, founded in 1999, has become the most successful business application and Amazon Web Services, launched in 2006, is the most widely used cloud infrastructure provider.

[ Learn from others and get inspired. Read 10 Crowdsourcing Success Stories. ]

With consumer-related innovation leading the way, what's a business to do? If you are serving consumers, it's expected that you will have world-class technology that rivals the best of Silicon Valley. If you are a B2B company, do you just wait?

While it's popular for people working in technology to invoke the necessity to act, reality is more nuanced than that. Evaluating the what, how much or how disruptive your investment in technology should be requires a process that 1) lowers the cost of evaluation to broaden the number of ideas you can try, and 2) increases the clarity of outcomes. Without this, you are left just throwing darts.

Crowdsourcing has been pulled into more of these discussions recently as an inexpensive way to help companies explore more innovative ideas. For instance, a company could crowdsource prototypes of the best ideas coming out of their brainstorming sessions on making the workforce more mobile instead of just picking one to try out. Or it could use a crowdsourced community to solve a big-data problem such as how to route trucks or how to position the solar collectors on your International Space System without having to invest in teams of researchers.

In lieu of crowdsourcing, companies often feel constrained in proving concepts they consider innovative or new. Because of this, they think focusing their efforts and being selective is a key part of the process. While focus is important in executing on an idea, too much focus in the early part of the idea funnel can be harmful. It leads to ideas that are closer to the status quo and subject to senior management bias.

If venture capitalists functioned like this it would be equivalent to only looking at three companies and picking one to invest in, or college admissions only being allowed to look at 10% of the candidate pool. The solution is to lower the cost of experimentation so that many ideas can be explored, cross-referenced with data and then refined or discarded.

With crowdsourcing marketplaces -- such as Tongal, Poptent, CloudSpokes and Innocentive -- communities help explore and prototype multiple ideas more efficiently by drawing on the best designers, developers, analytics experts and scientists from all over the world. In addition, because crowdsourcing participants pick what to work on, they bring a personal interest that matches the task well. As organizations grow, it becomes harder to find the exact resources and skills for the project at hand.

Applying these crowdsourcing markets to prototyping ideas lets you see conceptually what you are trying to do. Also, it gets the business and technology sides of your organization on the same page about the expectations for your idea.

For example, a consumer products company wanted potential customers to experience what it would be like to wear their colored contact lenses. By using crowdsourcing, they were able to show in just days a working app that helped the company understand how it could be done technically and what the experience would be like for the customer. This specific prototype helped align the company's tech and business teams and has been applied to other initiatives.

In basketball, teams practice very specific scenarios -- like what to do with time running out on the clock -- because in a game the stakes are too high not to be prepared. Similarly, by widening your innovation funnel through crowdsourcing you can try and fail in a low-cost way and make sure your company delivers on great ideas when it counts the most.

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OtherJimDonahue
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OtherJimDonahue,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/23/2013 | 3:40:23 PM
re: Crowdsourcing: Pick The Brains Of World's Best
An interesting take. The world continues to get smaller and smaller, doesn't it?

Thanks for the link re: the ISS, a story I'd missed--this kind of thing shows incredible promise.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
9/23/2013 | 3:53:10 PM
re: Crowdsourcing: Pick The Brains Of World's Best
But if I'm not the International Space Station, or GE, or some other giant, how do I get the world's best brains to work on my crowdsourced big data problem? Those brains probably have a lot on their mental plates already. (BTW, congrats on the TopCoder acquisition, Narinder)
nsingh944
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nsingh944,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/23/2013 | 5:59:03 PM
re: Crowdsourcing: Pick The Brains Of World's Best
It doesn't have to be just for the largest companies, but they tend to see value easier because of their scale and have time to setup the problems for a crowd to work on. But neither of those are true by default. Check out this Harvard Medical school result (I know another high level brand :-) http://www.topcoder.com/wp-con... - if they were lesser known they may have had to pay a bit more to get the same participation, or they would have gotten less, but the results were still much much better than where they were. Its about getting multiple perspectives on a problem and recognizing that the best minds for a specific problem has huge variance (not the same 100 people every time). We've got a ton of lesser known company examples, but ironically folks tend to be less interested in reading those ;)
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
9/23/2013 | 4:50:39 PM
re: Crowdsourcing: Pick The Brains Of World's Best
A follow-up question: How might crowdsourcing look different in a few years?
nsingh944
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nsingh944,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/23/2013 | 6:09:18 PM
re: Crowdsourcing: Pick The Brains Of World's Best
Great question, and probably best for an entire post ! One of the things I imagine we will see is more repeatability by specific units of work (e.g. I need a consumer mobile app front end built for iOS) including pricing, duration, expected results, etc. Market metrics will create transparency for this kind of work through crowdsourcing communities, but more importantly it will push over into the market overall - helping productize services (either into assets or better known units).
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
9/24/2013 | 4:45:27 PM
re: Crowdsourcing: Pick The Brains Of World's Best
Our readers would find a follow-up column on this topic intriguing, so please have at it, Narinder. And thanks for lending your voice to this discussion.
Juan MarioI563
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Juan MarioI563,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/23/2013 | 9:59:33 PM
re: Crowdsourcing: Pick The Brains Of World's Best
Really interesting Narinder, thanksGă´!Gă´

I think that you would be really interested in some recent research that I have come across about crowds and citizen science.Gă´ Gă´In particular I feel you may find these two emerging pieces of research very relevant:

- The Theory of Crowd Capital
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/pa...

- The Contours of Crowd Capability
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/pa...

Powerful stuff!
Muthu LeesaJ889
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Muthu LeesaJ889,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/18/2014 | 5:44:05 AM
Nice post Narinder
In this era lead by social media, there is no doubt that crowdsourcing will find its success. The very idea of crowdsourcing itself brings in a collective sense of ownership for both sponsors and partcipants. Incorporating ideas from your target market in your app will ensure a certain level of reception of the app. Here are five reasons why crowdsourcing will work wonders for you: http://mlabs.boston-technology.com/blog/5-reasons-why-crowdsourcing-can-work-wonders-for-your-mobile-app-idea
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