Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Value of Crowds

A little while back I was asked by the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce to provide the closing keynote to the inaugural CROWD conference. The purpose of the event was to reinforce the value of a community like the Chamber and how that crowd of entrepreneurs can assist one another. To draw the threads of a really practical event together I thought I would engage in a bit of an examination of three key assets in a crowd and some one or two main ideas on how one can begin to generate value from a CROWD. Firstly we looked at the role of a crowd as a source of distributed cognition, or collective wisdom. This is where the group can offer a considered view which when aggregated can be very insightful both for the collective insights available from the clusters and grouping of views but additionally through the existence of outliers and their novel perspectives. This can be translated into value through the activities like brand perception exercises, validation and diligence work, to horizon scanning and weak signal detection. Secondly we considered the role of the notion of a crowd as a talent pool, and the reach that it provides to individual point of deep insight. This is distinct from collective approaches where you are concerned with groups and deviations from it. Here we are looking for individual occurrences of specialized knowledge and insight so its value typically comes in crowdsourcing exercises, innovation, crisis management and problem solving. Finally we looked at a crowd as a third asset - a mechanism for collective action, where we work as a group to create a groundswell that is irresistible and brings about change. Here we can see value through activities like crowdfunding, campaign and major project delivery. What is common to all, but is often overlooked, is that to work effectively crowds of individual autonomous agents need to be managed, and simple rule sets are needed to establish a framework within which we can create value. Without them we have chaos. To demonstrate this point we spoke of mexican waves and the wonderful examples of murmurations. This type of flocking has a simple rule set that can deliver extraordinary emergent happenings, and if you haven't experienced one try this one out courtesy of the film makers Islands and Rivers. What is particularly pleasing to learn is that Don Tapscott, Global curator of Social Media Week used a similar example in his TED talk in Edinburgh this week. Nice to know that we see eye to eye on this! How has a crowd been valuable to you?

This article was first published on the twintangibles blog