As we covered last month, there is a great deal of investment flowing into new “talent exchange” platforms, such as eLance and oDesk. Technology is enabling new ways of intermediating work arrangements between talent and the organizations that require talent.
Companies use crowdsourcing in a variety of ways. At one end of the spectrum, a request could go to the crowd for something like a “logo design.” Graphic artists around the world could submit ideas and the chosen one gets paid. At the other end of the crowdsourcing spectrum, work can be conducted by a number of people in remote locations who don’t know each other or know who is doing what — to complete a large project. In the earlier article, for example, we cited Finland-based GetLocalization, which operates a platform through which people anonymously “collaborate” (as a crowd) on completing entire language translations and receive compensation for their achievement.
Using crowdsourcing to solve complex scientific problems has been on the rise as a mainstream method. Previously unsolvable scientific problems have been solved by non-scientist gamers, who achieve new insights through some form of gamefied collective wisdom.
Pretty heady stuff. Can any of this be used (for working on other kinds of commercial problems or projects/programs)?
Many businesses perceive crowdsourcing as a way of sourcing work for relatively contained, closed tasks. However, one crowdsourcing platform company is challenging this assumption. Innocentive has been a leader in crowdsourcing applications since 2001, enabling a wide range of complex crowdsourcing efforts by many different types of commercial and non-commercial organizations. Innocentive’s track record with businesses seems to show that prize-based challenge crowdsourcing can be an effective approach to achieving results in many kind of commercial efforts. Offering prizes (i.e., cash amounts, etc.) to attract contingent talent to work on challenges that could involve solving a specific problem, or coming up with a new way of doing something. Take tee shirt company Threadless for instance.The company “decided to base their whole business on external talent and build a community of designers and customers that they could leverage to come up with the t-shirt designs that they sell.”
Other examples are provided by consumer product and service companies Procter and Gamble and Starbucks (see white paper Harnessing the Global Talent Pool to Accelerate Innovation).
But crowdsourcing is not without complexities. Some think that Starbuck’s MyStarbucksIdea.com throws things too wide open (for all idea submissions) and is not sufficiently focused on particular challenges. This approach could provide free market research for competitors and creates a lot of sifting and communications work, which can be unproductive. It could also expose the company to the risk of brand equity destruction from not following through on suggestions. But problems notwithstanding, crowdsourcing can yield results. From the perspective of Innocentive, not only can crowdsourcing be a contingent workforce approach to “getting certain things done,” but can also be a strategy for harnessing outside talent to achieve higher and sustainable levels of innovation and competitiveness over the longer run.