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Crowdsourcing

Author: Jeff Howe

Publisher: Crown Business

ISBN: Crowdsourcing

Summary:Crowdsourcing is about getting commitment from as many people as you can, and to connect to people who do not have the "obvious" skills to help you better solve problems and drive innovation.

Leader Values

I first noticed "Crowdsourcing" when Jeff Howe wrote about in a June 2006 Wired magazine article.

What is it? Well, "Crowdsourcing" is essentially about motivating as many people as you can connect together to solve a problem or to invent a solution. Think of open source Linux, where thousands of volunteers have created a computer operating system to challenge Microsoft Windows. Read how iStockphoto has changed the way stock photography works using social networking ideas. Or consider how companies such as Procter & Gamble throw out R&D challenges to a vast network of independent scientists, and double their research productivity as a result. It is the ultimate challenge to specialization.

Crowdsourcing is not the same as outsourcing, which relies on a finite number of workers who have the skills to do a specific task. Crowdsourcing is about getting commitment from as many people as you can, and to connect to people who do not have the "obvious" skills to help you better solve problems and drive innovation. It means that there are shared goals and shared values across the system, but there is also a delight in diversity.

If you have studied network theory, you will recall that Mark Granovetter proved that "weak links" in a network drive innovation more than the strong links. A strong link is an immediate member of your family, or a work colleague. A weak link may be someone connected to by someone else that you know - think 6 degrees, or the Linked In web service.

To quote the publisher's review "Howe reveals that the crowd is more than wise — it’s talented, creative, and stunningly productive. Crowdsourcing activates the transformative power of today’s technology, liberating the latent potential within us all. It’s a perfect meritocracy, where age, gender, race, education, and job history no longer matter; the quality of work is all that counts; and every field is open to people of every imaginable background."

What this also means is that the worker can choose what to work on, and which community to join. And community rather than geography is the key. No one forced thousands of people from all over the world to work on Linux for free, and the scientists associated with Innocentive (one of P&G's R&D network firms) can decide what problem they want to tackle.
 
Of course, none of this would be possible without the rapid and ubiquitous connectivity available via the Internet.

Crowdsourcing is, of course, not without its pitfalls, as the Wikipedia has shown us. You still need quality control, and there may well be legal implications in the sharing of proprietary knowledge. Yet even the US Patent Office is now running trials using a "Peer to Patent" idea where thousands of people work through patents to check for prior art and novelty, dramatically increasing the brainpower needed to sift through an ever-growing patent estate.

Howe writes enthusiastically and clearly about the phenomenon, with lots of case studies and stories. And he does a neat job in summarizing the lessons we can learn from Crowdsourcing at the end of the book.

A good read.