02/22/2013 11:04 pm ET | Updated Apr 24, 2013

From Crowdsourcing to Crowdstorming

The "crowd" has come to embody the organizations enabled by our new online connections. Crowdfunding provides an alternative to traditional sources of capital by directly linking those who need funding with those who have it. Collaborative consumption enables us to access assets such as homes or cars via online crowds. And crowds are offering an alternative to traditional outsourcing institutions, connecting those who have large or small tasks with those who are willing to perform them.

Over the last decade, organizations like GE, P&G, DARPA and LEGO have pioneered a particular type of work with crowds. They work with crowds to brainstorm, or "crowdstorm." And in recent years, startups like Quirky, Localmotors and Giffgaff have put crowdstorming at the core of their strategies to bring better products and services to market. Crowdstorming patterns are evolving quickly from simple searches for ideas to more complex interactions where crowds take on multiple specialized tasks.

Beyond Contests

Over the last few years, my co-authors and I studied hundreds of crowdstorming projects. We identified three broad categories: search, collaborative and integrated. The most common pattern is search. Contests fall into the search bucket because they are mainly focused on searching for the best ideas (or candidates, partners, etc.). The search pattern is often appropriate, because we can simply test the best ideas -- think of X PRIZE or DARPA Grand Challenges.

But what happens when we cannot easily measure ideas? Most often, we place our trust in "HIPPOS" (highest paid person's opinion). This trusted approach has been at the heart of everything from venture capital to advertising. So it stands to reason that P&G relies on such a model to source more than 50 percent of innovation from outside the firm. But this model misses an important opportunity. When we brainstorm, we dont just source ideas; we evaluate and build on ideas, too.

From Sourcing to Storming

LEGO Cuusoo is good example of a collaborative crowdstorm. It is not so much a contest as a collective filter. As in the search pattern, people or teams pitch ideas. The Cuusoo community needs to give the idea 10,000 votes before it will be reviewed by the LEGO team. And the community also offers feedback on possible refinements to help submitters increase their chances of success. A similar feedback process helped GE understand the value of Ecomagination Challenge proposals, from which it ultimately found new investments opportunities and partners for its sustainable energy businesses.

When the crowd can offer feedback, you drastically increase the number of participants and interactions. It is common to see the 1-9-90 interaction pattern. For each participant submitting an idea, nine participants might offer feedback in the form of votes, ratings or comments, with the remaining 90 simply observing the interactions. At a minimum, the move from search to collaboration results in an order of magnitude increase in the number of participants and an explosion in interactions.

Continuous Crowdstorms

These firms are pioneering some of the most complex crowd-enabled processes. Where our social feeds might be populated by breaking news and cat videos, community feeds are abuzz with new-ideas posts, updates, votes and progress reports. They might look familiar to those working in global firms who have deployed social tools, only few of these people are employees. They are part of the crowd.

And in the same way that we are attempting to identify influencers in social media, so firms like Quirky and Giffgaff are measuring participation and rewarding contributions. Cash compensation and public recognition are common. And in the process, the crowd is replacing some of the traditional research and development organization.


Firms like Quirky and Giffgaff are only a few years old, but they are offering us a glimpses of entirely new types of crowd-enabled organizations. Pass by any of the forums in either community and you find lively debates on everything from compensation to recruiting. Their crowds are not just helping to produce products and services; they are helping them to get better at working with crowds, too. So we should expect even better ideas from the crowd.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Social Media Week in conjunction with the latter's Ideas Connected, a three-day event taking place at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City on Feb. 19-21. Presented in partnership with MKG and Crowdcentric, Ideas Connected is designed as an inspirational, educational and explorational deep dive into the architects, inventors and collaborators who are shaping our lives in extraordinary ways, accompanied. Learn more here.