Types of Crowdsourcing

February 27, 2013

Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom

Yesterday I spoke at an event called Crowdopolis. The topic was crowdsourcing. This has become one of the hot buzzwords in business. Companies of all sizes are dipping their toes into crowdsourcing.

But what is it really? Well, crowdsourcing is a lot of different things and can’t easily by lumped into one small bucket.

Here are a few of the crowdsourcing variations (and this is not a complete list):

  • Solution Finding: This is where you use a crowd to solve a complex problem. Are you looking to develop a glass for the next iPhone that won’t smudge? Ask a crowd to see if they have a solution. InnoCentive and BrightIdea are two platforms that help` companies solve these types of problems (the latter is the engine behind GE’s ecoimagination initiative).
  • Opinion Seeking - Crowds can be used, of course, to provide input and suggestions on how to improve your product. SurveyMonkey is a low-end version of this in action. MyStarbucksIdea.com is a more sophisticated version that runs on SalesForce.com’s “ideas” platform.
  • Content Creation – Want to create an advertisement for your company but don’t want to hire a single design agency? Why not hire the world? Companies like Doritos have done this for their Super Bowl commercials with great success. Platforms like Tongal help companies crowdsource the creation of videos. News broadcasters are also doing this to help collect videos from individuals who shoot newsworthy footage on their iPhone.
  • Design Competitions – Need a new logo? You don’t need to hire just one person from an agency or eLance.com (which is also a form of crowdsourcing, even though you only get one person doing the work, you get multiple people to bid on the work), you can use 99designs.com or logotournament.com to get hundreds of designs for the price of one. You select the one logo you like and pay only that one designer.
  • Data Collection - This is a growing area of crowdsourcing. Instead of sending your employees out to inspect buildings, shelves in super markets, or potentially even read meters, get anyone to do it. For example, when someone is in a supermarket, have them snap a picture of your product on the shelves. This gives you insights into stocking levels and product placement, and the GPS tracking will give you the location without the need for tagging. Think of this as more data for your big data.
  • Manual Tasks - This is outsourcing on steroids. Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk is an example of this. Break up your work into bite-sized chunks and get people to do these activities for pennies. There are many platforms for doing this in all shapes and sizes. Although it is not technically a crowdsourcing platform, one of my favorites websites is fiverr.com; a site where people will do almost anything for $5.
  • Testing – Do you have something you want to test? uTest is a great platform for this. They can beat the heck out of your website looking for bugs, usability issues, or anything else. You can get hundreds of people banging on your system to stress it and test it.
  • Customer service – What if you could get your fans to be customer service employees? Platforms like CrowdEngineering.com allow your most knowledgable customers to provide help to your entire customer base. If your customers have a technical problem, instead of speaking to an employee, they can be routed to one of these knowledgable fans. Think of this is a virtual “geek squad” or “genius bar.”
  • Programming – One of my favorite crowdsourcing platforms is TopCoder. This is truly amazing. They have nearly a half million programmers, designers, testers and program managers who compete to create wireframes, designs, code, and algorithms, and then test everything for customers. This is one of the best end-to-end solutions out there.
  • Crowd funding – Need money for an initiative or cause? Crowdfunding may be the way. Platforms like kickstarter.com enable people to raise money for their projects. There are platforms for raising money for non-profits. And now there is the emerging version which can allow for micro-angel investing.

As you can tell, crowdsourcing can be leveraged in many ways.

It is important to note that crowdsourcing is not THE answer. It is only a tool. You need to make sure you understand what you want to achieve and then determine if this approach is appropriate. Too many organizations have tried crowdsourcing, thinking it was a silver bullet, only to be wildly disappointed. Having said that, when used properly, it can reduce costs, timeframes, and risk, while providing high quality solutions.

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The Power of Positive Constraints (transcription)

February 27, 2013

Here’s the transcription of my Monday Morning Movie

This morning I want to talk about the power of positive constraints. In the world of innovation, there seems to be this belief that we’re supposed to let everybody be free thinkers and let them do whatever they want. But, this actually destroys innovation. We need structure. We need constraints.

I’ll give you a really simple example. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll notice that about a month ago, I made a bit of a change.

Now, instead of just writing whenever I feel inspired to write or writing about whatever I want to write about, I’ve created structure. Mondays, there’s always a Monday Morning Movie. Tuesday, there’ll always be the transcription of the movie, along with on some weeks, a Tuesday Travel Tip. Wednesday is my Wednesday Work Wisdom. Friday is my Friday Fun Fact. As a result, over the past month without fail, there has been a minimum of four blog entries and, in some weeks, I’ve had five or six.

If you turn back the clock, you’ll notice that when I didn’t have structure, when I didn’t have those positive constraints, there would be some weeks where I might have only one.  And there would be even a period of time where I wouldn’t write at all. So, constraints are actually a very good thing. First of all, because they give us a little bit of structure and it forces us to think a little more clearly around something. It gives us something to work around. But also, it sort of sets a tone for what we need to get done. If I’m committing to doing certain things every day, and I can do those constraints consistently, that’s very valuable.

And it’s not just about publicly declaring that on Monday, you can expect one of these videos. There’s another value that comes from having positive constraints…

It also reduces the level of thinking I need to do. This actually allows me to be more creative. If I gave you a blank sheet of paper and said, “Hey, come up with a great idea on how to improve your business,” you might come up with a lot of ideas. Probably, most of them would be pretty bad and I also suspect that you would struggle to come up with some great ideas.

On the other hand, if we worked on defining a really good problem statement – identifying what is the one area of your business where there is the greatest opportunity; identifying where you differentiate yourself from your competitors – that might actually give you even better results, more creativity, and even more value.

Constraints are not bad. We seem to think that we want people to “think outside the box,” but anybody who’s been following my work knows that I think instead, what we need is a better box (aka constraints).

Being organized; procedures; having a better box.

These are not bad things. These are things that will actually increase and enhance your level of creativity. So, look at an area in your life where you’re struggling to get things done.

Maybe part of the issue is confusion and a lack of clarity. Lack of clarity actually comes out of a lack of constraints. Constraints will give you clarity. Anytime that you feel stuck or confused, think about what structures you could put in place that would keep you accountable, that would keep you on track and keep you on target, and also improve your level of creativity.

When you start to think about positive constraints as a positive thing, I promise you, you will enhance your creativity massively.

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Tuesday Travel Tip

February 26, 2013

I travel a lot. And I travel with a lot of technology. In front of me now is my MacBook Pro, my iPad and my iPhone.

But when I am in hotels, they often charge for each internet connection. So I have to choose. Do I want to connect my computer, my tablet or my phone?

Well fortunately, there is an easy way to share a connection with all of your devices.

If you are using a MacBook, go to System Preferences > Sharing

You will see something like this…

To share your internet connection, just click the internet sharing box. Then you must select something in the “To computers using” area. Since I typically connect via wifi, sharing my computer’s wifi is not an option. So I share via bluetooth. Then all I do is turn on the bluetooth on my iPad and voila, I have internet everywhere.

If your Mac is connected to the internet via an ethernet cable, you have the option of sharing your connection via wifi.  This is extremely useful on international travel when wifi is sometimes more difficult to get or is more expensive. In fact, in some overseas hotels, the only option is to connect via ethernet cable. If I only brought my iPad, I would be without data. But if I have my Mac, I can have a connection on both devices, as well as my iPhone to save on data roaming charge.

Let me know if you have any questions.

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The Power of Positive Constraints

February 25, 2013

Today’s Monday Morning Movie…

We often think of constraints as being something bad. But actually they can be quite beneficial. They can help us get more done work more efficiently. And surprisingly, they can help us be more creative.

You can read the transcription here….

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Four Heads Are Better Than One

February 22, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact…

A machinist, clockmaker, glass blower and mathematician were all walking in Menlo Park….

Despite how this reads, it isn’t the beginning of a joke.  It was actually the start of a new era.

I am talking of Charles Batcheldor (machinist), John Kruesi (clockmaker), Ludwig Boehm (Glass blower) and Francis Upton (Mathematician); who were all associates to Thomas Edison during the time the incandescent light bulb was invented. Collectively, this group was a dominant influence on some of history’s most radical inventions in the areas of telegraphy, telephony, the phonograph, and electric lighting.

Or did you hear the one about the inventor, botanist, essayist, and tire maker?  The alliance of these seemingly mismatched men, Thomas Edison John Burroughs, Luther Burbank and Harvey Firestone, reportedly enabled Henry Ford to become one of the wealthiest men of his time, raising him up from “the handicap of poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance.”

In my Monday Morning Movie, I discussed the benefits of developing a mastermind group. This is not a new concept and was formulated back in 1937 by Napoleon Hill, advisor to two presidents and the author of Think and Grow Rich.  Hill defined a Mastermind “as a mind that is developed through the harmonious cooperation of two or more people who ally themselves for the purpose of accomplishing any given task.”

It is the simple logic behind the theory two heads are better than one. And on Monday, I  shared my own personal experience that you want those heads to  contain divergent views, beliefs and backgrounds; not unlike a machinist, clockmaker, glass blower and mathematician.  By tapping into the collective brilliance of individuals with opposing viewpoints, perhaps you too will begin to see the light.

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What Are Your Innovation Blind Spots?

February 20, 2013

Today’s Wednesday Work Wisdom

Innovation is often discussed in terms of what we know about innovation. But sometimes it is useful to uncover what we don’t know. What are the things that might catch us off guard and ultimately reduce the long-term impact of our innovation efforts?

Some useful questions to ask to are:

  • What don’t we know about a particular topic? InnoCentive ran a challenge to identify what researches didn’t know about Type 1 Diabetes. Doing this provided useful insights that improved the chances of finding a cure.
  • What do we need to find out? If you are looking to attract customers that are different than your current ones, don’t just ask what you know about them. Identify what you need to learn; what you don’t know.
  • What do we need to do in order to uncover what we don’t know? If you don’t know what your customers really need, don’t rely solely on big data. Instead try ethnography. If your customer surveys are giving misleading results, try techniques designed to uncover implicit/subconscious biases. Using different techniques will yield different insights.
  • Who do we need to involve that is currently not part of the process? Who can help you uncover what you don’t know you don’t know? If you want to surface potentially disruptive market shifts that can kill your business, partner with a university or futurist.  If you want to understand emerging economic shifts, seek out the council of an economist. Insights from experts outside of your company/industry will lead to better innovations.
  • What do we need to stop doing in order to free up time to focus on what matters? Don’t get wed to your ideas. Be rigorous in killing anything that does not show potential in order to free up resources. Keep a crew of “devils advocates” who poke holes in your theories.
  • Who’s our competition in the future? Assume that your current competitors will not be your biggest threat in the future. Look for disruptive technologies that may make your business irrelevant. Look for competitors in emerging markets that could offer services at a lower cost.
  • What demographic changes may blind-side us? Sometimes your biggest competition is not a new company, but a new set of buyer values.  For example, if you are an insurance company, your biggest threat may not be a new insurance company. It might be the fact that millennials (the next generation of consumers) are “present moment” focused. Getting them to save, invest in the future, or buy insurance will be increasingly challenging.

This is only a starter list of things that could catch you off guard.

Although you need to focus on what will make innovation a success, don’t forget to identify the questions that might create unexpected roadblocks. Be sure to uncover your blind spots so that you are not blind-sided.

What other questions would you add to this list?

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Innovating Masterminds (transcript)

February 19, 2013

Here is a transcript of yesterday’s Monday Morning Movie

When I started my business 12 years ago, one of the first things I did was join a mastermind group. Basically “mastermind” is just a fancy word for a group of people who come together that work on each other’s business.  So we learn from each other.  I’ve learned a number of things over the years in terms of what makes a good mastermind group. If you’re in a business and you want to learn from others, this is an awesome way.

For most of my career, I decided to mastermind with other professional speakers.  In the early days of my career this was great because I learned some of the basics and I learned some of the things that would have taken me much longer to learn. I was able to learn from people who’ve already done what I wanted to do.

But then I recognized something.  There is a point in every business where only hanging out with people who are in the same business is actually going to hold you back, because you start breathing the same oxygen.  You start thinking the same way.

Sometimes you want to breathe fresh ideas into your business; to think differently.

Just last weekend I got together with four other people in Las Vegas.  We had this great two-day mastermind.  We spent about an hour and a half on each person’s business and we dug really deep.

What was particularly cool about this mastermind is that instead of being composed of a bunch of speakers, we had a diverse group: someone who is in real estate, someone who works in multilevel marketing, someone who is in the printing business, and someone who had his own creativity space. And then there was me, the speaker. We also invited someone in who was an executive at Zappos for a while.  So we got a very interesting mix of people.  I learned a lot about business, and what would be valuable to my business, from this group of people.

Although I was shocked at how useful the input was, it really shouldn’t surprise me since my message around innovation is that we need to hang out with people who aren’t like us. But I have to say, I was still amazed to see the real power of getting a divergent group of people together that have a deep trust for one another and can share their open and honest opinions.  It was fantastic.

The other thing that we learned, which is an extremely important part of not just masterminding but innovation in general, is you have to know what question to ask.  Anybody who’s seen my work knows that I love to quote Einstein who reputedly said, “If had an hour to save the world, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions.”  This is really important.  Even in a mastermind it is critical to make sure we’re asking the right question.  Sometimes even a small change in language can have a huge impact.

For example, one person might be thinking about starting a restaurant.  Now, that question – “What do I need to do to start a successful restaurant?” – implies the individual needs to worry about everything associated with starting a new business.  If we change the language slightly and ask – “What do I need to do to buy a successful restaurant? I don’t want all of the hassle of starting one from scratch.” – very different suggestions and ideas will pop up with that.  Or if the question is – “Instead of buying a restaurant, what if I became an advisor to other restaurants?  I want to be involved in restaurants but I don’t necessarily want all of the day to day work.” – well, that’s again a fundamentally different question.

What we found over and over in the course of the weekend is that if you’re asking the wrong question, all the advice you might get from someone is irrelevant.  So you want to make sure that you’re taking the time to really think about what matters.  What’s important?  What do you value?  Make sure your questions are framed accordingly.

The other thing that we learned is that sometimes, when you want to improve your business, you don’t want to hang out with people who are even in the world of business.

We spent a fair amount of time talking about personal development: things that have nothing to do with the success of our company but are about our own internal success.  How do we become better people? Live better lives? Be happier? Be more compassionate?

It is amazing how these types of things, these non-business activities, can have a huge impact on your business.  That’s why it’s really important for you – whatever your business, whatever your role is in business – to recognize that you don’t want to spend all of your time hanging out with people who think like you.

Don’t just go to industry conferences.  Don’t just go to conferences with people who have the same role or function as you.  Instead, find people who have fundamentally different types of businesses.  Find people who are in different parts of your business.  If you’re in HR, hang out with people who are in sales.  Learn from people who think differently.

And again, don’t just spend all of your time thinking about business.  Think about your life and what you want out of your life.  This will make you more powerful in everything you do.  This will then help you create a more successful business because you will be able to define success on your terms.

This is Stephen Shapiro, and I hope that you find a group of people who together will change your business and change your life through divergent points of view together.

P.S. I still mastermind with other speakers, and get incredible value. The point isn’t to stop spending time with people from your industry. I am suggesting that you need to balance that with individuals/groups from different industries, different functions, and different disciplines.

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Innovating Masterminds

February 18, 2013

Today’s Monday Morning Movie

Masterminds are extremely useful for helping get new ideas for your business. But some mastermind models are better than others. Today’s video shares some perspectives on how to create a more useful group interaction by embracing divergent points of view and starting with better questions.

Read the transcription of this video

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The Cost of Being Disorganized

February 15, 2013

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

In my Monday Morning Movie, I explained that there is tremendous freedom gained through simplifying and de-cluttering your life. While this freedom is a natural catalyst for creative thinking, the benefits of a clutter-free environment are much further reaching.

Simply Productive, an “Organizational Design” firm, compiled an extensive list of statistics related to clutter. Here’s just a small sample:  (View the entire list)

  • Typical US worker is interrupted by communications technology every 10 minutes (Institute for Future and Gallup)
  • 80% of papers and information that we keep, we never use (Agency Sales Magazine)
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that the average U.S. executive wastes six weeks per year retrieving misplaced information from messy desks and files.
  • The National Association of Professional Organizers says we spend one year of our lives looking for lost items
  • Office workers waste an average of 40% of their workday, because they were never taught organizing skills to cope with the increasing workloads and demands (Wall Street Journal)
  • The average manager is interrupted every three minutes
  • People who multitask decrease their productivity by 20-40% and are less efficient than those who focus on one project at a time. Time lost switching among tasks increases the complexity of the tasks (University of Michigan)
  • Executives waste 7.8 hours each week (Accountemps Survey)

While I wasn’t overly surprised by any of these, they certainly gave me pause for thought.

In my blog post from Wednesday, I challenged you to consider what you would do if you could only work one hour per day. I suspect that many of you scoffed at the feasibility of the idea. I’m sure others tossed the notion aside immediately because it was so far outside of your realm of possibility. But if clutter alone, which is something that can be rectified, could account for bloating your schedule as much as 1-2 hours a day, perhaps you can begin to justify the notion that the one hour workday may not be so crazy.

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Avoid the 100% Mentality

February 14, 2013

In yesterday’s blog entry, I suggested that (if you are an entrepreneur) putting less effort into your business would yield greater results in the long-run.

By focusing on the 20% of your business that generates 80% of the revenue, you can then invest your freed up 80% on new business models that have greater long-term potential. (please read this last sentence again…this philosophy is not about taking a pay cut in order to lounge around; it is about freeing yourself to create even greater income potential while having a more enjoyable life)

Many people (as expected) pushed back.

Their response, “That’s easier said than done.”

Well of course, everything is easier said than done! It is easier for me to say, “I’m going to tie my shoes,” than it is to actually tie them. But I still do it.

We look for excuses as to why we can’t do something. We blame our parents. We blame our circumstances. We blame the government. We blame our family. We blame our employer or boss.

Instead of finding reasons why something won’t work, get creative about how to make it work. Ask yourself, “How can I apply the underlying principles to my specific situation?” Even if you can’t apply the concept in its entirety, look for the nuggets that you can use.

Don’t put the NO in inNOvation!

The point of yesterday’s blog was to get you thinking about your business and where you invest your time, money, and energy.

According to Jeff Olson, author of The Agile Manager’s Guide to Getting Organized, “Perfectionism costs 50% or more of the total effort to squeeze out the last 10% or so of quality.” Never strive for perfection. Avoid the 100% mentality.

Ditch your worst customers - Look at your customers. Instead of trying to get more customers, ask, “Which customers should I get rid of?” Admit it, there are customers that generate less income than others, yet take up most of your time. I find that the customers that are most price sensitive are also the most difficult. I spend more time with them than I do with my best customers. The solution? Ditch the 20% that are sucking up your time. This not only frees up some hours in your day, it frees up your mental energy. Stress is created by your worst customers, not your best. Ok, I realize that when money is tight, this can seem like a risky proposition. Well, it is! But admit it, you intuitively know that attempting to keep 100% of your customers 100% happy will keep you working 100 hours a week and ultimately limit your true growth potential.

Ditch your lowest return activities - Look at the work you do. Look at your to do list. You will never get 100% of the work done, even if you had 200 hours in a week. Regardless, we still strive to get 100% done. Again, this mentality limits your growth potential. Instead of asking, “How can I get as much done as possible?” ask, “What should I stop doing?” or “What are the things I must do?” Or better yet, ask, “What is the one thing that will unlock the greatest growth potential for my business? What gives me leverage?” Be honest. What would happen if you got one less thing done off your to do list? Two less things? Find the sweet spot of where you can get the optimal return. And as mentioned in yesterday’s article, delegate, automate, or eliminate. Only do what you need to do, and get the rest off of your plate. And no, you are not the only one who can do most of your activities. It might feel that way, but it is not true. And believing it will kill you.

Ditch unnecessary clutter and belongings – Worried about money? Look at your life. Instead of keeping 100% of what you have, ask “What can I get rid of? What do I really need?” My Monday Morning Movie provided some great tips for this. And tomorrow’s blog entry will share some interesting statistics on how clutter can be sucking up a lot of your time. Freeing up your personal life frees you up professionally, which in turn further frees up your personal life.

Freedom is the name of the game. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of a good life and a successful business.

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