What Can Crowds Do?

Since the 2004 publication of James Surowiecki’s highly influential book, The Wisdom of Crowds, the idea that large groups of people are smarter than a few individuals, no matter how brilliant, has been gradually gaining prominence in academic circles, business communities and, most importantly, public opinion.

Crowdsourcing is one of the practical applications of this idea. Numerous organizations, including corporations, governmental agencies, and nonprofits, are now using crowdsourcing as a problem-solving, product development, operational improvement, and marketing tool. Crowdsourcing has also been successfully applied to public policymaking: from writing state constitutions to creating “smart cities.”

Other approaches to engage crowds in important socioeconomic activities also exist. One of them is crowdfunding, something that crowdsourcing is often confused with. Although the idea of raising money from the public (i.e., for charitable causes or disaster relief) isn’t new, the invention of online crowdfunding platforms, such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo,  has made this process more streamlined and cost-effective. Equally important, crowdfunding has democratized the process of raising capital to start new businesses or to launch new products. Crowdfunding is so effective because it allows entrepreneurs to present their cases to larger audiences of potentially interested parties, in addition to a limited number of professional investors.  

 A few years ago, a group of New York City-based entrepreneurs proposed an interesting derivative of crowdfunding, crowdraising, an approach that allows crowds to pledge time instead of money to support causes or projects they care about. Any organization with a worthy goal would be capable of using crowdraising to hire a crowd to perform business-related activities. These activities could be as simple as taking part in a survey, conducting beta testing, or giving feedback. But they could also involve more complex tasks, such as coding, design work, or strategic advice. After completing their work on the project, the members of the crowd would be expected to be rewarded: from an honorable mention or a free product for simpler tasks to cash or equity for more complex activities.

As far as I know, the concept of crowdraising has never been realized in practice. However, I consider crowdraising a promising idea with the potential to create a new paradigm of finding and hiring employees in the gig economy. Taken together with new ways of problem-solving (provided by crowdsourcing) and raising money (provided by crowdfunding), all three approaches may profoundly shape the future of work.

And there is something else I strongly believe in: new ways of capitalizing on the wisdom of crowds will emerge.

 Image provided by Tatiana Ivanov

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is the Founder of (WoC)2, an innovation consultancy that helps organizations extract maximum value from the wisdom of crowds by coordinated use of internal and external crowdsourcing.
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