Will R&D departments be replaced by crowdsourcing? Or at least partly? A problem solved is a problem halved, the old saying goes. But what happens when you share a problem with an abundance of people instead of just a few colleagues?
Research and development is usually regarded as top secret and fiercely guarded against prying eyes. However that seems to be changing a bit due to the increased use of crowdsourcing, which allows you to tap into a much wider pool of knowledge and specialist skills.
Reach out to experts you don’t know
The idea behind crowdsourcing is to harvest both internal and external knowledge to solve problems by reaching out to capable people outside your company and regular network. And more and more companies post challenges on web sites and offer a reward to anyone who can solve it.
Get some of the brainiest people in the world competing to solve your problem
A good exampel of such a web site is InnoCentive. It has a network of about 200,000 of the brainiest people in the world that will be able to look at your problem from an objective point of view. The rewards are substantial and to get $50,000 for solving a problem is normal.
A tool for industrial espionage?
Needless to say there are voices are raised against crowdsourcing in particular when it comes to security and the dangers of industrial espionage. InnoCentive believes it has solved that by being responsible for the IP process by making both the source that posts the problem and the sources that solve them anonymous to start with.
Money saver as well as new job market
Crowdsourcing is becoming increasingly popular and new sites are appearing on a continuous basis which seem to indicate that companies are increasingly regarding it as an efficient way of handling innovation. R&D is extremely expensive and by out sourcing, at least part of it, to freelancing scientists not only saves a lot of money but also give companies access to some of the best brains in the world. It’s also interesting to note that it is creating a new job market for the intelligentsia of the world where they can pick and chose what they want to work with.
Goldcorp struck gold
One good example is that of the Canadian mining company Goldcorp, which was struggling financially and unable to find gold on its land in northern Ontario.
When a new chief executive arrived he put all its geological data online, asked for help on where the gold was located and put up $500,000 in prize money for accurate suggestions.
“They got submissions from people all over the world, including people using 3D computer modelling techniques. They found $3bn worth of gold on the property and Goldcorp became one of Canada’s largest mining companies.”
Secrecy versus solutions
Where would Goldcorp be today if secrecy had been more important to them than solving the problem? Crowdsourcing actually enables small and medium sized companies, as well as individuals for that matter, to have an R&D department comprising some of the best brains in the world. With worms like Stuxnet around is it actually possible to keep anything secret nowadays? Unless of course you don’t in any way involve computers in R&D (you don’t even have to post it online for Stuxnet to get access to it).
Useful tool for governments?
And governments are starting to use it as well. It can be particularly useful when there are difficult decisions to be made, such as where the axe must fall in terms of cutting public spending. Critics on the other hand, say it has been proved that crowd sourcing for governments gets out of hand and becomes a tool for lobbyists.
Crowdsourcing in your personal life
Are you using crowdsourcing to solve your own problems? You can actually do so even as a private person. Networks such as Globe Forum allows you to post your problems to their global pool of networks and instantly have a team of experts collaborating to solve your challenge.
What are your feelings about crowdsourcing? Do you believe it’s the way of the future? Or is safety more important to you than a solution? Will crowdsourcing enable small and medium sized companies to better compete with the giants? Do you already use, or plan to use, crowdsourcing?
Photo: PhotoXpress Alexandr Shebanov