The Daily Sabbatical/Ivey Business School | Nov 18, 2013 | 14604 views

How to leverage the intelligence of the crowd to drive exponential change

The wisdom of collectives is prolific and ubiquitous in the world of open innovation, where crowds are tapped to surface and solve problems, discover opportunities, create new products and design creative experiences. Most people don’t realize, however, that crowdsourcing, as a technique, has been around much longer than our current digital history


lthough the term crowdsourcing was coined in 2006, examples date back to the 18th century, from the study of moon movements in the creation of nautical tables, to the Oxford English Dictionary (in the development of the first dictionary), and the Meteorological Project at the Smithsonian (developing the first weather maps). These original examples of crowdsourcing were primarily focused on mechanical tasks, or those requiring significant (literal) manpower to accomplish, with data being transferred via mail and telegraph over very long periods of time.

Fast-forward to 2013, where digital platforms have replaced information received through mail and telegraph. Today, the rate at which data and ideas are collected, viewed, commented on and hacked is unprecedented, primarily as a result of the pace of technology innovation. With hundreds of platforms, ranging from corporate open innovation to niche platforms focused on specific industries or tasks, the value and success of individuals coming together to solve problems is well established, particularly in the world of tech start ups.

In our innovation work, we find that many organizations are bound up playing leapfrog – each quarter focused on jumping over and getting ahead of competitors. Most leverage open innovation platforms as glorified suggestion boxes, and overlook a tremendous opportunity to hack successful models to create sustainable strategies. Below are five ways to leverage the principles of crowdsourcing to create lasting impact within organizations.

1.     From optimization to innovation

2.     From customer service to customer experience

3.     From managing knowledge to collective intelligence

4.     From old money models to new money paradigms

5.     From corporate responsibility to community impact

 From optimization to innovation
Historically, process optimization has been a key to differentiation by way of quality and cost competitiveness, particularly in the context of manufacturing, technology, and other process-driven environments. Deming’s quality principles of continuous improvement, systems thinking and human psychology focused on the way materials and people flow and communicate to create high-quality product and deliver on service. In many organizations, creating and maintaining quality through established processes continues to be highly regarded, and is often, if not always, a leading key-performance indicator.

Now, contrast Deming’s principles with the objective of innovation – to create new, disruptive ideas that address the (sometimes articulated, often not) needs of customers, users, partners and employees. While Deming advocated change for the purpose of quality improvement, the idea of creative destruction — the entrance of new entrepreneurs in a market where established companies are entrenched— is a reality in today’s context. Developing innovation capabilities, and a protocol for deploying them, is fast becoming a key differentiator for organizations hoping to compete effectively.

So, how can collective intelligence facilitate this movement? One way is through multi-disciplinary ideation.

Multi-discipline ideation
Multi-discipline ideation brings diverse audiences together to identify problems and opportunities, and then break down current models and create new ones. Breadth of thinking across disciplines, coupled with depth of expertise, can spur innovation as ideas are surfaced, interpreted and analyzed in new, meaningful ways.

A great example in the world of education is the Global Challenge, an annual initiative hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The event is a competition that sees students, alumni, faculty and community partners from around the world come together to solve important world challenges. The Global Challenge has produced solutions such as low-cost water purification, a writing device for the blind, health analysis/detection processes, and novel ways to deliver and access education, among others. The intellectual capital generated by these platforms is significant and was developed by teams with very different backgrounds that came together to solve these challenges.

Organizations can replicate this kind of thinking by bringing together high-performing, open-minded individuals across disciplines and departments to solve critical challenges for organizations. In our experience, this model is often supplemented by external stimuli – outside field experts, consumer research and foresight. The most successful organizations incorporate a mandate from the top and a commitment to implement in order to prove success.

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Comments (1)
Jmi Nov 19, 2013
Really interesting Cheesan, thanks.€‹

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

- The Theory of Crowd Capital

- The Contours of Crowd Capability

Powerful stuff, no?
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