Crowdsourcing -- or capitalizing on "the wisdom of the crowd" -- has been seen as a 21st-century way to draw innovation from beyond the four walls of the enterprise for new ideas, as well as gain insights from a cross-pollination of disciplines. Leading organizations such as NASA and Dell have been employing crowdsourcing approaches to successfully spark new innovations.
But while technology brought crowdsourcing to a whole new level, it is also already rendering the approach passe, and potentially risky. That's the observation made by Thomas Frey, senior futurist with the DaVinci Institute and publisher of FuturistSpeaker.com. He asks this provocative question: "If you had a choice of flying from Boston to San Diego in a plane piloted by a single machine or the combined intelligence of 3,000 people, which would you choose?"
Frey points out that the "crowd" often has been wrong, from a historical perspective. For example, he points out, following the wisdom of the crowd led to the 1929 stock market crash; or to the real estate market crash of the 2000s.
Frey stats that crowdsourcing is losing its luster as a means of decision making and innovation, and is being superseded by three technology-enabled developments:
The rise of "super-influencers;" Super-influencers are active voices within their social networks, and marketers are learning to get these super-influencers "to endorse their products and services in a more positive fashion," Frey observes.
The rise of Big Data analytics: Big Data is accelerating decision-making from slower, more deterministic approaches (such as committees or boards) to "data mining techniques that can access the opinions of large constituencies or the buying whims of a target market almost instantly," Frey says. "Yesterday’s tail-draggingly slow processes are being replaced with an entirely new social norm."
The rise of machine-augmented human intelligence: Perhaps paradoxically, technology and artificial intelligence is helping to lift individual human intelligence as well, Frey points out. "As we move into the big data era, we will continue to uncover far more sophisticated ways of both capturing and leveraging these gems of real human intelligence, and finding unusual ways of using only those with the highest grade of intelligence behind them."
Frey points out that decision-making is being effectively enabled by new technologies, but there may continue to be a valid role for crowdsourcing to boost innovation. Many companies and crowdsource communities, for example, limit engagement to closed networks of participants, for example. Companies experimenting with crowdsourcing, for example, have employed the approach to their employees or partners, thus ensuring more relevant and focused ideas. There are also crowdsourcing engagements limited to scientists or researchers. Crowdsourcing is part of an important set of tools now available, via technology, for achieving faster and more innovative solutions to problems -- if employed properly.
(Photo by Joe McKendrick.)