Every movement has its defining moment, those 15 minutes of fame when it moves into the general consciousness and suddenly goes from niche to the next big thing. Sometimes, that move can be a good thing, an indicator that a topic will now command the attention and respect it is due as people take it more seriously. However, sometimes, well sometimes it means that everyone is jumping on the bandwagon just to jump. Overnight, it is the “cool” thing to do, the way to get some easy PR. There is a flash flood of attention and publicity that will saturate the market for a while before everyone moves onto the next big thing. One of the recent examples of this that comes to mind is virtual world technology; a couple of years ago you could not read news publications without a bombardment of predictions of how this was going to change the world. Then suddenly, the press pieces slowed to a trickle and all anyone could talk about was social media.
I have seen a couple of pieces of evidence recently that crowdsourcing may be heading into its moment in the sun.
Exhibit A: while watching a popular reality show a few months ago, the Chief Innovation Officer of a major US food company introduced a “challenge” for the competitors. While it was unclear exactly what the challenge had to with innovation and crowdsourcing, the company’s web-based crowdsourcing endeavors were given a plug and the role of Chief Innovation Officer was raised to a whole new level in the viewing public’s consciousness.
Exhibit B: While on an international flight recently, I was reading the in-flight magazine and came across a multi-page article titled “Crowdsourcing.” The synopsis described the topic as “To harness the opinions and needs of the crowd via innovative websites.” It went on to claim, “Welcome to the Web-based creative democracy.” It was a good piece that gave a decent, high-level description of open innovation and crowdsourcing, discussed some of the more famous examples, discussed the challenges, the potential pay-offs and mentioned some of the likely losers (the ad and design agencies).
What does this new spotlight on innovation mean? I think that in the short-term, it will probably mean an explosion of highly publicized crowdsourcing sites. What is the problem with this? Well, I remember when every company suddenly wanted to put up branded real estate in virtual worlds; just doing it so the company could say that they were doing it and with no real sense of what the value proposition might be beyond a bit of quick easy press coverage. This strategy rarely paid off in the end. Many companies opened up big, splashy virtual offices only to shut them down a year or so later blaming the underlying technology as gimmicky and a waste of time, when the truth was, that usually, the company’s efforts had been ill conceived and often badly executed. The real downside of this trend was that it gave the virtual worlds a bad rap and contributed to the reluctance of other organizations even to consider entering the field. Will things be different this time around? Only time will tell.