The Power of Crowdsourcing: Why the Next Best Big Idea for Your Business May Be in the Brain of a 14-Year-Old in Belgium

 Crowdsourcing isn’t a new idea. But new brands are forming because of it—think Airbnb, Lyft, and Kickstarter—and established brands are recognizing a new way to solve old problems. Even the country of Iceland has turned to crowdsourcing for innovative ideas, and robots at the University of Washington are learning to seek help from the world when they’re stumped.

Of course, businesses are sometimes hesitant to allow strangers to solve their business problems, for a variety of reasons, including cost, and because the lines of intellectual property are blurred. Not every problem requires a crowd-sourced solution, but ignoring this innovation tool is a missed opportunity.

Build a community

Makerbot’s Thingiverse, the world’s largest 3D printing community, is changing the game for anyone who wants to create—and “remix”—3D things. “Thingiverse isn’t just of designers, engineers, or CAD drawing experts: anyone can learn,” says the Thingiverse site. “The more you share your ideas, the more your designs inspire others, get printed, and do awesome things.” Your business can build a community from the ground up, or turn to existing communities for inspiration or to present them with a challenge of your own.

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The collaborative economy is giving people platforms to share ideas—and iterate on them—in any number of fields. NASA is turning to the public for ideas of how to use already-created technology in creative ways. It’s these communities that give creative thinkers an outlet they may not otherwise have, and allow them to see ideas through to creation. Eventually, it’s what comes out of these communities that will help our everyday lives.

Crowdsourcing from within

Of course, you don’t necessarily need a huge public crowdsourcing platform or campaign to reap the same benefits. Instead, consider the benefits of using internal social networks, which allows employees to collaborate across departments and tap into collective company knowledge, not just their immediate team.

In addition to implementing tools for day-to-day information sourcing, consider holding an annual or biannual hackathon, or hack day. Whether it’s a day or a weeklong event, a hackathon can allow your employees to take action on actual business ideas, whether within parameters set by your business or not. While the term “hackathon” is usually used in terms of computer programmers and software developers, it can be applied across departments, allowing cross-disciplinary teams to explore ideas that may not need or be ready for programming.