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Jonathan Schilit Headshot

Crowdsourcing Goes Further Than You'd Think

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I heard Lior Zoref speak at a conference in Jerusalem in June of 2012. He had delivered the first ever crowdsourced TED Talk a few months earlier in Long Beach, CA. He spoke of the wisdom of crowds, included examples from his personal life, from others and from history.

His TED Talk was unique because he crowdsourced it. Yes, a talk about crowdsourcing was in fact, crowdsourced. Pretty brilliant, actually. Those in attendance witnessed the climax of his talk -- for the first time in TED history, a speaker brought up a live animal on stage. But we'll get to that in a minute.

Highlighting Zoref's TED Talk were the crowdsourcing anecdotes of others. Zoref told of Pastor Kal Busman of Tullahoma, TN who crowdsources his weekly sermon topics from his congregation. And Deborah Copaken Kogan, who posted a photo of her ailing son to Facebook, suspecting his apparent sickness might be strep, but instead was informed it was the much more dangerous Kawasaki Syndrome, an autoimmune disease.

This crowd wisdom from social communities is not a new phenomenon. However, it's certainly gaining traction and acceptance. Crowdsourcing religious talks from Facebook? Check. Crowdsourcing medical conditions? Let's do it. How about restaurant concepts and real estate development? Consumer goods product development? Major league sports' fan experience? Check. Check. Check. All it takes is a willingness to be open minded, throw out pre-conceived notions, and let the crowd guide your thoughts. From the Dallas Mavericks crowdsourcing new uniform designs to Lay's crowdsourcing new chip flavors, the spirit of opening up innovation is here to stay.

Getting the right people to participate can still be a challenge, but identifying the right audience is part of the process, which affects the desired results. Mark Cuban offered "eternal bragging rights" to the person whose design would be chosen. (Great, thanks Mark.) Lay's on the other hand, is offering $1 Million. With a $1M prize, you're spreading the net as wide as possible, as far as your marketing dollars will take you. The ideas here don't matter as much. Here, crowdsourcing is a marketing device.

There were no incentives when Zoref brought the live animal up on stage at TED in Long Beach. To illustrate the power of crowdsourcing, a sixteen-year-old boy from Zoref's social network (again, crowdsourcing his stories) suggested he share the old tale about guessing the weight of an ox. So Zoref told of the story made famous by the British inventor and pioneer, Francis Galton. More than one hundred years ago, Galton observed a contest at a fair where people guessed the weight of an ox. The closest guess wasn't from one person, but rather, it was the average of all the guesses.

Then, with the support from his crowd, Zoref recreated the contest in Long Beach.

He brought a live ox up on stage and asked the hundreds of people in attendance to guess the weight of the ox. On their phones and laptops, TED attendees submitted their guesses. (The link is still live!). The lowest guess was 308 pounds (really?). The highest was over 8,000 pounds. The average? 1,792 pounds.

So what was the actual weight of the ox? 1,795 pounds!! Well done, crowd! I have no clue what the margin for error is, but three pounds off is pretty darn good.

Zoref finished his talk with a quote, appropriately delivered in unison (via video) by all the people that helped build his presentation, "Great minds think alike, clever minds think together."