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The ‘60’s expression “Power to the People” might serve as the heart and inspiration of Crowdsourcing. Yet it is as disruptive and frightening to middle managers as those crazy hippies were to the Great Silent Majority almost half a century ago.

The upper echelons of corporate America are embracing this wild notion of including the customer in the ideation process. No longer content with passive consumer research; companies are now looking for their customers to ideate, interact, create and serve as the linchpin of future products & services.

Crowdsourcing is an inherently beautiful hypothesis. But it’s what happens in the middle trenches of Corporate America that turns this beautiful hypothesis into nothing more than a shell of an idea.

In a word, “power”.

Or more aptly, “power transfer”.

Somewhere in the actual workings of Crowdsourcing, the goal of strategic ideation became corrupted into tactical input. This isn’t always the case, but in my experience, it occurs in the majority of situations.

Why would this be so?

Well, the answer is clear. Organizations do not embrace change, and they certainly don’t like change that diminishes their status. Why would an Ad Agency Creative specializing in ideation or a Corporate Brand Manager willingly cede power and creativity to the consumer? Look at it from their perspective. They’ve gone to B-School, spent years learning the ropes within their respective organizations, to gain the perspective to conceptualize new products. Meanwhile what qualifications does the consumer have? All they’ve done is simply buy our damn products.

I also find reluctance among many qualitative moderators to cede control as well. Qualitative research has its roots in psychosociological controlled experimental designs. But do we really need another moderated discussion? Does that not imply a lack of respect for the consumer?

Suddenly, none of the usual players are entrusted with scoring the goal, and we’re not comfortable in this new paradigm. We’ve traded our hockey sticks for curling brooms; the idea now is to simply facilitate the process, allowing the idea to go wherever the consumer intended it to go. This is far less satisfying than a slap shot of heavily moderated discussion with fait accompli results.

From my vantage point, Crowdsourcing remains an elusive goal. Strategic initiatives are being reduced to minor tactical issues. Instead of being used to develop the next great thing, consumers are being asked to choose between two nearly identical packages. We’re right back where we started.

Crowdsourcing cannot be achieved without consistent championing within the organization by a senior executive sensitive to the concerns of the middle manager. The middle level corporate brand manager, the ad agency ideation creative, and the skilled qualitative moderator all need to buy into the potential of Crowdsourcing. How and why would they do that? Of course, they need to be shown the power/potential of Crowdsourcing. But most importantly, they need to see what’s in it for them. How will their skills now be utilized and developed? How will this help their personal career advancement? If we don’t reduce these sources of friction and strife, we will have consistently disappointing results from Crowdsourcing within “established” organizations.

However, new companies, without the handcuffs of bureaucratic red tape, will naturally embrace Crowdsourcing as part of their corporate DNA. This will force older established organizations to change. Because faced with dying or changing, even among process driven organizations, the latter generally wins out.

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