Wisdom of crowds in a socially distanced world

“The Next $100 Billion dollar company will be driven by crowd-based solutions” — Eric Schimdt

Innovation has come a full circle. We are all hyper-connected and ideas spread faster than we can imagine. In the past, strong communities have come together to launch successful industries and businesses that are now an integral part of our daily lives. Similarly, today crowdsourcing platforms offer services with high levels of efficiencies and world-class results, helping businesses scale and succeed.

The pandemic has made it very critical for companies to rethink their operating model and organizational structures. Organizations large and small are looking for ways to keep pace in a sustainable way. Many are adopting to scrappier, agile methodologies, and hiring contract workers instead of full-time employees.

But one of the most untapped techniques of innovation is crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is an ancient concept. Coupled with technology, crowdsourcing can be a powerful and relevant tool to unlock innovation. Today, there are sophisticated global platforms and systems that help engage the crowd, and mediate the conversation seamlessly. Crowdsourcing can be highly effective for challenges of any scale and nature, be it a business problem or product design.

Here are some ways you can use crowd-fueled techniques at your organization:

1) Crowdsourcing as a problem solving tool: One of my favorite examples of using crowdsourcing as a means for problem solving is Wikipedia. It truly demonstrates the value of diverse collaboration within a structured model. It’s a self-sustaining system where external knowledge and edits are solicited from across the world to fuel content and stay relevant. Collaborative communities are very valuable because they bring in diverse perspectives, and can therefore tackle a problem very effectively. However, the success of these communities relies on technology — having an automated process for validation, aggregation and cohesion is critical to see results.

Tip: Start small — Pilot a crowdsourcing program at your workplace that encourages ideation and deliberation. If your organization wants to stay ahead of the curve, it’s key to foster new ideas by opening up the conversation across different departments. Having transparency around the business problem and a flat organizational structure can create a safe space for sharing openly and cross-pollinating ideas. For more ambitious challenges, expose the problem to a larger crowd, create an “idea marketplace” or a structured “platform” for widely diverse individuals to share freely and problem solve collectively.

2) Crowdsourcing a product feature : Crowdsourcing is not only an effective tool to bring in new ideas but can also be a core part of your product offering. Waze is a winning example of a company that harnesses real-time crowdsourcing for better traffic data and providing value to its customers. These crowdsourced insights lend a differentiated advantage to Waze, as compared to its competitors, and has become a critical part of its value proposition.

Tip: Think of avenues in which you can harness the power of crowd intelligence to create a competitive advantage for your product or make it your USP. Crowdsourcing can help create an intrinsic benefit for your product. As it scales, it can create a network effect and thereby add multiplied value to your offering.

3) Crowdsourcing as a validation tool : Have you ever wondered where the words for reCAPTCHA come from? reCAPTCHA is used across websites as a validation technique to test our human-ness. The words that are presented to us are usually from digitized books, which computers can’t decode. Therefore, we are presented with two words in a reCAPTCHA, one known and one unknown. When many people give the same answer for the unknown word, Google then digitizes the word as the final answer. The model completely relies on crowd intelligence and also exemplifies the use of crowdsourcing as an effective validation tool. To me, this sounds a lot like user testing, and there is an interesting relationship between research and crowd-powered validation.

Tip: Businesses can effectively use crowdsourcing to validate a hypothesis that stems from market research. Companies use market research to understand white spaces and source ideas, but they can validate those ideas in real time using the wisdom of crowds. This is a compelling alternative to sharing it in focus groups and waiting for feedback. It’s a quick way to collect data, create fail-proof solutions, determine the viability of an idea, and have a faster product development cycle. Coupling research and crowd intelligence techniques can be a game-changer for organizations.

4) Crowdsourcing to craft a vision and build loyalty — Crowds are really driven by intrinsic motivations. Companies can give their users a say in defining the vision of their product using crowdsourcing techniques such as running contests where users can submit ideas and the highest voted idea makes it into the product portfolio. Lego has successfully created products using this model. Starbucks also has an ideas platform which is consistently used to capture new ideas and uncover genuine insights.

Tip: This can also be a great marketing tool to make users feel invested in the success of your organization. In the long run, it can build empathy and significantly increase brand loyalty by making users feel invested in the success of the company. Modern day business models should take this into account and expand their organization’s cognitive maps to successfully unlock innovation.

Today, a lot of the knowledge sourcing happens from online communities such as social networks or blogs. This is a good way to keep track of user sentiment and solicit feedback. However, the value of knowledge obtained from these sources is not always valuable to pivot product strategy or create opportunities for sustained growth.

As we think about the future of work, decentralized decision making, flat organizational structures and collective intelligence will become increasingly important. These will never take place of leadership, but will lead to more liquid networks across a distributed workflow to encourage freedom, flexibility and creativity.

Even though the world is socially distancing with masks on, there’s still a way to leverage the wisdom of crowds and unmask its true potential.




Product Designer. Innovation Strategist. Constantly strive to find the line between not enough coffee and too much coffee.

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Miloni Sheth

Miloni Sheth

Product Designer. Innovation Strategist. Constantly strive to find the line between not enough coffee and too much coffee.

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