Recently, I came across an article describing how Chinese smartphone manufacturer ZTE is engaging its customers in crowdsourcing the design of a new device. I admit that it was the article’s title, not content, that caught my attention: “Can crowdsourcing lead to better smartphone concepts design?” My first reaction–that is, even before opening the article–was like, why not? If Fiat Brazil could use crowdsourcing to design a new car, Fiat Mio, then why the same approach can’t be used to design a smartphone? Why asking such a rhetorical question?
And then I realized that I myself am guilty in asking similar questions. Two years ago, I was wondering whether crowdsourcing could beat Ebola (how is this different from asking whether crowdsourcing could stop Zika?); a year ago, I was questioning the ability of crowdsourcing to solve the refugee crisis in Europe; and, finally, a couple of months back, I was asking whether crowdsourcing could fix someone’s marital problems.
The truth is that we’re long past the stage of asking whether crowdsourcing can do this or that. Although, unfortunately, still seldom used by organizations, crowdsourcing has definitely proven its worth as a powerful innovation tool. Moreover, as I argued quite recently, a properly designed crowdsourcing campaign can allow organizations to simplify their search for solutions to their problems and get diversified, original and often even unexpected solutions. Besides, compared to other innovation tools, crowdsourcing is remarkably cost-effective.
So the real questions now are how to make crowdsourcing a mainstream innovation tool and how to expand the field of its applications from solving “simple” technical questions to addressing complex problems like providing medical diagnoses online. Two conditions have to be met for this to happen. First, organizations have to learn how to properly formulate the question to be put for crowdsourcing. Second, the ability to rapidly create sufficiently large and diversified crowds to deal with this question (or skillfully use commercially available ones) must be perfected.
Image credit: Barry Faulkner, “The Day of Decision” (http://www.thecobbs.com/auction-2013-01-05-lot-43.html)