Future Friday: Can Crowdsourcing be a solution or be a problem?

crowdsourcing-525x350[1]By now all of you have heard of crowdsourcing. If you haven’t here is the definition from Miriam-Webster “the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, especially an online community, rather than from employees or suppliers.” There are numerous things accomplished through crowdsourcing and numerous projects that use crowdsourcing as a way to find potential solutions to an expressed problem.

Types of projects

In the age of the internet and the collection of big data, where we collect 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day, there is no one organization that has the resources to analyze the data appropriate to their company. So they enlist the “crowd” to get the data looked at. One example is Zooniverse which launched the Moon Zoo crowdsourcing project, allowing ordinary citizens to study and organize high-resolution lunar images. As of the end of 2014, some four million lunar images had been studied. On their website they have multiple projects in which someone could get involved, such as annotating soldiers’ diaries from WWI, or transcribing museum records. Anheuser-Busch crowdsources beer development, Egypt has crowdsourced civic development and MIT has crowdsourced solutions to climate change.

Powerful tool

Crowdsourcing can be a very powerful tool to help organizations through tough problems. Wikipedia describes it as:

 “By definition, crowdsourcing combines the efforts of numerous self-selected volunteers or part-time workers, where each contributor adds a contribution that may combine with those of others to achieve a greater result; hence, crowdsourcing is distinguished from outsourcing in particular for a number of reasons; including that the work may come from an undefined public, rather than being commissioned from a specific, named group, and for the fact that crowdsourcing includes a mix of bottom-up and top-down processes. Regarding the most significant advantages of using crowdsourcing the literature generally discussed costs, speed, quality, flexibility, scalability, and diversity.”

Millennials may reach out to others beyond the company walls to get solutions to problems

It can be a great way for small or single person departments to get help in solving problems. Additionally many Millennials may reach out to others beyond the company walls to get solutions to problems if they do not have internal resources or get embarrassed to ask for help from office mates. It can be a creative, cost effective way to get “different eyes” on your challenges. However, there can be a downside to crowdsourcing for problem solving.

The downside- the need for secrecy

…the downside is that you may also be giving away company or competitive secrets that can hinder the company in the marketplace.

Reaching out to others to get help on a problem or project can be a great way to get a solution, however the downside is that you may also be giving away company or competitive secrets that can hinder the company in the marketplace. The challenge then becomes balancing the need for help with the need for secrecy. Many workers, particularly younger ones may not understand the marketplace to the extent that managers do. They may not understand that sharing information in an attempt to get a solution may be doing more harm to the company than the solutions may help. It is the task of management to outline the parameters of using outsourcing to find solutions or to accomplish projects. Make it clear to employees those things that cannot be shared outside of the company walls. Provide the explanation of why confidentiality is absolutely necessary.
If there is no downside then management may want to encourage crowdsourcing for solutions. No employee or set of employees has the answer to everything, but someone may say or suggest something that will prompt the insight that leads to the solution. I am reminded of a couple scenes in the movie I Robot where Detective Spooner is struggling with a problem and two inadvertent comments from his Captain and from his Grandmother lead to him to solving the case he is working on. Perhaps you too can enjoy the success that could come from crowdsourcing your problem.

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