There was a literal 800 lb. gorilla in the room at the Digital Sandbox on Broad St. in lower Manhattan this week. Well, OK, it was still figurative, but the Crowdsourcing focused event Crowdopolis, put on by the team behind the Daily Crowdsource, ended late February with a bang. With plenty of coffee and Crowdsourcing focused content and presentations, the lively crowd – representing a mix ranging from social entrepreneurs to Fortune 50 enterprises – enjoyed and interacted with 2 solid days of case studies, action items, and how to’s. The progression in what is the greater space dedicated to educating the masses on Crowdsourcing is impressive and the shift to individual relevancy is well under way. The event avoided the “What is Crowdsourcing?” feel and focused more on how different people from various walks of business-life are applying the practice to achieve repeatable, scale-able success. Between Jason Crusan of NASA describing how the agency has utilized (and continues to utilize) several platforms and innovation communities to create everything from t-shirt designs, to videos, to algorithms crafted to help the International Space Station (ISS) more efficiently harvest solar energy, over to Lisa Kennedy (CMO Healthymagination, at GE) describing how a vivacious 15 year old high school freshman won a national science fair by creating a brand new way to detect pancreatic cancer that was 168 times faster and 26,000 times less expensive than today’s standard testing, and over to Stephen Paljieg of Kimberly-Clark who shared their “Mompreneur” focused community that funds moms who have fantastic child-care product ideas and helps them bring the product towards (and hopefully to) market, the 2 days that comprised Crowdopolis mainly focused on how Crowdsourcing is being applied and the ways in which you can and should get going. So within these micro-lessons delivered by some of the most creative leaders applying Crowdsourcing, 3 really important macro-lessons emerged that seemed to stick with this curious audience.
The Span of Accomplishment via Crowdsourcing is Huge, and Growing
Networking throughout the intimate setting for 2 days the “thing” I heard the most from the attendees was: I had no idea this many different things could be done by Crowdsourcing. From the very “small” microtask of having a a cell-phone equipped “crowd member” snag a photo and report a downed street sign or a fresh pothole, all the way to highly complex Open Innovation challenges that create something brand new or solve a challenge in a brand new way, the audience had their eyes opened to the possibilities, and that is a huge step in the right direction.
The Volume of Enterprises Already Utilizing Crowdsourcing
SAP, Walmart, eBay, NASA, AT&T, Ferguson, Kimberly-Clark and several more global enterprises all had speakers at this event discussing how their team is currently utilizing some form of Crowdsourcing. Some enterprises gravitated towards the micro-task environment of a Mechanical Turk, while other enterprises were sourcing new ideas, while others still were building new applications and end-user products via crowdsourced methodologies. The same audience members who were surprised to see such a variety of work and innovation, were also impressed to see such wide enterprise buy-in from global players. Several folks I personally spoke with on-site came away feeling “armed” with content and the right-level examples they felt they needed to successfully shepherd crowdsourcing back into their world. That’s quite powerful.
Crowdsourcing is NOT Magic
Whether it was Lionbridge’s tale of helping the IRS or uTest’s impressive study covering their mobile device testing and rating work with USA Today, there was a central theme to many of these use cases that wasn’t hammered into the attendee’s ears, but was repeated often enough to be clearly understood. To achieve repeatable success in Crowdsourcing (and Open Innovation) there needs to be a process and a way to manage what is a new way to get things done. Crowdsourcing and Open Innovation have “quickly” evolved from the “one off” contest mentality and for certain platform providers – including TopCoder – has shifted heavily into how we enable clients to repeat the process and scale the effort for their enterprise. The practice of Crowdsourcing and Open Innovation isn’t about throwing some challenge over a wall and expecting brilliance in return. It is a new way to produce and to innovate. Like anything else worthy of mastery, it will take your effort. You will help yourself if you’re engaging a platform that has a defined and structured process that you can easily getting going with, learn from, and then master. Crowdsourcing and Open Innovation are entering that really unique period during any growth phase when the “how it is applied” takes center stage. This is an exciting stanza because with each passing day, some team, enterprise or individual is, in their own way, innovating, by recognizing and experimenting with a new way to apply the methodology to get something brand new done or created. Showcases like Crowdopolis are essential in that they bring all of these tales of application together, under one roof… with perhaps a gigantic gorilla swinging from the very top of the building.
image credit: dailycrowdsource.com