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Crowdsourcing Creativity -- Is This Any Way to Get Ahead?

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The whole structure of work and how it happens has been reinvented over the past several decades, in drastic ways and with far-reaching consequences. Lately, companies in the United States have been pulling jobs back from overseas and positions once offshored are returning, if not by the millions, at least by the thousands. The marketplace has spoken, and people want more than just the cheapest product or service made by the cheapest labor, somewhere in the world. Outside the country, business rules got bent, broken, and disregarded -- and companies made billions.

One of the ways people and companies have altered the rules of the online marketplace is by embracing the practice of crowdsourcing creativity, often with questionable results.

Crowdsourcing creative products to motivate commerce isn't a new idea, but the invention of new tools which accelerated how commerce happens online and the current state of the economy has made the practice of crowdsourcing commonplace, and has altered entire industries, in the same way that off-shoring jobs has.

In the creative realm -- graphic design, content creation, or any number of fields where art and commerce intersect -- crowdsourcing has been used to get a low-cost product by pitting creatives against each other. A smart business practice for the digital age -- or is it?

The truth comes down to this: crowds don't create copy for ads, logos, websites or even blog posts -- individuals do. At most, teams do. But crowds, not so much.

Smartly conceived, fully researched creative offerings just don't translate to the "cheaper is better" model some businesses have come to favor in the digital marketplace. Sure, many people will go with what will cost them the smallest amount, get a "good enough" product and only fully understand the consequences later.

Real expertise in a creative field takes years of work to achieve higher level of mastery. A crowdsourced (flat world) marketplace seems to be a way for young designers or creative thinkers of every discipline to compete against seasoned professionals, but if they do so at bargain basement prices, they are just spinning their wheels in the present and undercutting their future.

In both offline and online commerce, people search for the best deal. But here's the thing, when one is in the market for a well-designed new business website, built to last a minimum of five to seven years, does someone honestly want to hire the lowest bidder. Would you drive a car assembled by the lowest-bidding automobile manufacturer?

There are of course ways crowdsourcing makes sense. Crowdsourcing sites providing useful information such as where to locate the lowest gas prices, or crowdfunding sites that attract sponsors for specific projects, have gained popularity because they engage people in the process, smartly use web connectivity, and do it in a helpful or transparent way.

With Wikipedia, multiple contributors have helped to create a worldwide online encyclopedia. Contributors perform updates and corrections on their own time. The information can easily be altered, which works for and against this ongoing crowdsourced experiment in knowledge transmission.

As far as the creative side of commerce goes, human artistic skill, knowledge and insight take decades to develop and American business owners would do well to consider the lessons everyone has already learned (or should have learned) about the system-wide destruction created by outsourcing jobs and projects to the workers willing to do it for the lowest price point, instead of the most qualified.

The crowd may have its own brand of wisdom, but building a website by a committee isn't a wise thing to do.

The writing team of Smith and Foster comes from an extensive background of New Media content creation, in both the written and visual content creation side of the web. They are established professionals with writing and art backgrounds, unique perspectives on culture, and two diverse and similar backgrounds.