Tapping into the wisdom of the crowd is appealing: instead of hiring one person to perform a task, a business can pay little or nothing to divide it up among thousands, perhaps getting the work done faster to boot. However, getting useful input from a faceless mob in an unstructured online environment is tougher than it seems.
The ubiquitous Web 2.0 technology – after all, everyone is “socially networked” – doesn’t this lead to crowdsourcing?
CrowdSpirit was an ambitious project to crowdsource the production of a consumer electronics product from R&D and design through production and marketing. Ultimately, the short-lived platform highlights how community-based value creation strategies are difficult to implement.
The awarded $1 million Netflix prize to improve the accuracy of film recommendations gives the illusion that there is a crowd that solves problems better than individuals. In fact, a small team of researchers at AT&T Labs spent 36 months hammering out the winning algorithm.
Unilever, the world’s second-largest advertiser, aims to become “less corporate” by providing more co-creation opportunities. A crowdsourcing drive to generate short commercial films for 13 Unilever brands was reported to have garnered 10,000 downloaded briefs by “up-and-coming filmmaking talent.” When Kraft launched a spin-off of their Australian Vegemite spread, they turned to consumers for a name. Over 48,000 entries later, the resulting “iSnack2.0” was so controversial that it was discontinued just four days after its launch.
I’d argue that crowdsourcing is a great tool to get inspired, but it is not innovation.
“It turns out that when you have tasks that require creativity and planning at a higher level, the overhead involved and the need for consistency across the whole task makes (crowdsourcing) very difficult.” (Judd Antin, Yahoo!)
“There is no crowd in crowdsourcing. There are only virtuosos, usually uniquely talented, highly trained people who have worked for decades in a field. Frequently, these innovators have been funded through failure after failure. From their fervent brains spring new ideas. The crowd has nothing to do with it. The crowd solves nothing, creates nothing.” (Dan Woods, CTIO Research)
The most important part of innovation are the managing, mobilizing and aligning the ideas to strategic intent.