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Crowd Solving: The 'Democratization of Strategy'

04/07/2015 04:07 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2015

Savvy marketers have long understood the importance of winning over "the crowd." This century's fast-paced, innovation and Internet-driven economy requires a different type of management style in order for businesses to be competitive. Many companies have begun to realize this and are searching for new, more effective ways of managing their businesses.

Crowd sourcing and crowd funding demonstrate the power of the crowd. Traditionally, however, these have been a more tenuous topic with managers.

In corporate America, the "Command and Control" tradition was passed along by those returning from World Wars I and II. Spawned by the military approach to management, "Do as you're told" was the byword of top management, with little input from the enlisted or "crowd." Obviously, this management style is necessary in battle, when quick decisions are needed to preserve life and safety. In the "battle" of the competitive marketplace, however, not paying attention to the crowd may no longer be an optimal strategy.

The growing numbers of Millennials in the workforce (they will be the majority of workers in ten years), plus the amazing importance of the Internet are forces causing a shift in management style.

The paradigm shift is occurring because the most junior employees are the most proficient coders with the deepest technical skill sets. Factor in some irreverence, impatience and unwillingness to pay their dues demonstrated by many Millennials while climbing the corporate ladder, and the result is frequently a disruption in the workforce.

Progeny that include Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google and Linkedin, among others, are just the beginning of a new alphabet of startup-to-mainstream companies. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," is the salient expression that comes to mind. In terms of business management styles, this should not be a rallying cry for throwing in the towel, but for finding a better way in which to compete effectively.

Crowd sourcing and crowd funding are demonstrating the wisdom of crowds by allowing individuals essentially to vote by solving with their wallets and pocketbooks. Why not allow the crowd's wisdom to inform a team in the managerial process as well? Over the past thirty years across five industries, from small to global-sized companies, and at every level in the organization, the importance of diversity of thought and of becoming good listeners have emerged as valuable elements in management style. Both are central tenets in crowd solving and democratizing strategy.

"Democratization of Strategy" is a relatively new term used to define a process whereby a group of individuals come together to problem solve by thinking about all of the potential ideas and strategies a company can pursue. This process includes traditional brainstorming or brainswarming*, and has proven applicable to today's businesses.

Participants in this process are asked to build consensus at each table by voting on the best ideas they've generated. Next, spokespersons from each table voice their best ideas into the room. After all ideas are shared, participants "vote with their feet" by getting up to vote which ideas they like the best.

This process allows a team to quickly identify the powerful ideas and potential strategic solutions. There are also several bonus factors: participants feel invested in the outcome due to the key role they played in formulating the strategy, and outcomes are likely to be more insightful, as they have been battle tested by those who know the organization the best.

Of course the top management retains the power to implement, postpone, or drop the ideas generated. My experience has shown that top management is generally interested in the intellectual output of dozens to hundreds of their employees and customers, and has recognized the process as an effective way to unlock the best thinking of a crowd, capture epiphanies, and enlist needed buy-in to implement.

If crowd solving can make the management process more effective, why not give it a try?

*For those who want to double down on the brainpower harnessed, try thinking differently by unlocking the creative, intuitive insights from the right hemisphere of the brain.