By Kyle Hawke
Crowdsourcing. It’s becoming a hot topic, and it’s likely to be an enduring trend. To begin, what exactly is crowdsourcing? Simply put, it’s “asking the audience” instead of “phoning a friend.” It’s about taking work typically done by one person and broadcasting it to a large group. The web makes this much easier, and there’s reason to believe that crowdsourcing can result in more efficient solutions for managers.
With crowdsourcing on the rise, a lot of small business managers are asking the question: “What can and should be crowdsourced and what should remain in the hands of a single contractor or employee?”
Here are three criteria to consider when answering this question:
1. Type of Knowledge
“Knowledge is power.”
– Sir Francis Bacon
Explicit knowledge can be crowdsourced.
Explicit knowledge is knowledge that can be easily communicated to others. For crowdsourcing, we must take that definition one step further. Explicit knowledge that can be easily communicated to others using electronic mediums can be crowdsourced. By definition, crowdsourcing uses the web to assemble a crowd. Therefore, if the information (knowledge) cannot be communicated through the web, then it will be less easily crowdsourced.
On the other hand, tacit knowledge – that is knowledge that is not easily taught or communicated – is not a good candidate for crowdsourcing.
For example: You can crowdsource the market research to figure out a market’s size or the competitive landscape, but can’t crowdsource the actual product launch.
2. Level of Knowledge Transfer
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
– Chinese proverb
Like traditional outsourcing, crowdsourcing should be used on non-strategic tasks and activities — when you are looking for a fish, not to wanting to learn how to fish.
Sure, crowdsourcing is (often) quicker and cheaper than using a single employee or contractor. That’s great for small, routine tasks. On larger, more complex tasks, crowdsourcing’s biggest benefit is the fresh, third-party perspective. By nature, the crowd is not burdened by the routines, mindset and “group think” of full-time employees.
But this benefit comes with a twist. Organizations using crowdsourcing for the fresh perspective it brings (not just because it’s fast and cheap) must keep in mind that they will lose the value of the acquired knowledge they would have realized if they did it themselves. For more complex tasks, the crowd can tell you, but can’t show you how to do it.
Crowdsourcing gives you a fish while a full-time employee will allows you to learn how to fish.
3. Size of Task
“Not too big, not too small, but just right!”
Small tasks are more easily crowdsourced than large tasks. This is true because the typical, unpaid crowd has a short attention span for this type of work. Unpaid crowds (or minimally paid crowds) are completing small tasks primarily for intrinsic motivations — e.g., they find it fun, they like the challenge. If the task becomes too large, the crowd will lose interest and dissipate.
There’s a balance to maintain here between making tasks too large that the crowd becomes disinterested and making tasks too small that they present no challenge or enjoyment for the individual. You need “Goldilocks” tasks: those that are not too big, not too small, but just right.
Large projects can still be crowdsourced, but they must first be broken down into logical, manageable parts that can be easily aggregated back into a meaningful solution for the owner.
When considering paid crowds or expertsourcing, tasks can grow in size and still be effective.
Crowdsourcing clearly provides different benefits for different tasks. Managers can use these criteria to start to understand which tasks to crowdsource and which to keep in-house. Once that decision is made, the next question is how to crowdsource. This depends on the type of task and on the attributes of the crowd — their relationship, motivation, skill set, etc.
Putting this puzzle together is both an art and a science and is acquired through trial and error / experience. Whinot has this experience. Let us know if we can help.