The Unbalanced Benefits of Crowdsourcing

by Stefan Lindegaard

The Unbalanced Benefits of CrowdsourcingI just read a nice article on BusinessWeek – Workers of the World, Innovate – that looked into employee-driven innovation and crowdsourcing.

The article prompted a comment that starts like this:

“I have a real problem with this. Crowdsourcing is heavily biased towards benefiting those who run businesses, but not the idea creators. It cheapens the skill of creative thinking by lowering the cost of obtaining it. Why pay professionals thousands of dollars if you can dangle a carrot worth a $500 bonus?…”

I understand the concern, but I don’t agree with the commentator. If someone figures out different ways of solving problems or creating new opportunities, then what does it help to say that things should be as they have always been (pay someone thousands of dollars rather than paying prizes in a competition).
We can choose to stay in the past or go with the flow. I know what I want to do even though the future brings uncertainty.

The commentator also proposes that we should turn crowdsourcing into an entrepreneurship participation opportunity. I just don’t think it will happen. One reason is that that many of the companies that use crowdsourcing only focus on their benefit. They see this as a one-way tool in which they can get their challenges solved. This value proposition by itself is strong enough to give crowdsourcing future staying power.

This is just fine with me as long as companies do not confuse crowdsourcing with open innovation, which is more in line with the thinking of creating opportunities for many stakeholders in an ecosystem.

Another thing about crowdsourcing is that many companies seem to view this more as a marketing tool than a way to improve on innovation. Crowdsourcing gives companies great opportunities to interact with customers and users. This can make the mouth water on savvy marketing executives that understand the power of social media. Thus the marketing benefits alone are often enough to justify the launch of crowdsourcing initiatives turning real innovation opportunities into a nice side effect.

It would of course be nice if companies can get the best of both worlds and I also think this will happen more often as crowdsourcing matures.

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Stegan LindegaardStefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation.