In his 1953 book, Applied Imagination, Alex Faickney Osborn, the founder of the BBD&O Advertising Agency popularized the term “Brainstorming.” He used the term to describe the system his company used to pool the breadth of experience in a group to come up with creative ideas. Crowdsourcing is a similar process. It’s like mass brain storming, reaching a wide range of experience using social-media and the internet to solve problems and develop innovative products.
In the 1970s, biologist Rick Bonney called for “citizen scientists” to extend the reach of science by employing the contributions of amateur observers and naturalists. The term “crowdsourcing” first appeared in Wired Magazine in 2005, coined by editors, Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson. They regarded the process as a form of open sourced labor, eliciting services of an undefined labor pool to accomplish tasks.
Fiat Motors initiated one of the largest crowdsourced projects in 2009. Fiat opened a website calling for ideas to design a car for the future. People were encouraged to think in broad terms about traffic handling and the driving experience. Fiat received more than 11 thousand design ideas. As a result the first Fiat Mio concept car was constructed early in 2010 and officially launched at the Sao Paulo Auto Show that October.
An example of crowdsourcing medical innovation comes from The University of Washington. Medical scientists invented a downloadable computer game called “Foldit.” Thousands of players who have downloaded the interactive game try to work out the optimal folded shape of protein models to help in the design of an anti-AIDs drug.
Crowdsourcing has unique power to discover what people need and want and to find simple solutions.
The Bandit is a simple innovative device developed through crowdsourcing. The CEO of the manufacturer, Quirky, first dismissed the idea but crowdsourcing overruled him. A hook attached to a long looped elastic band makes it useful for holding stacks of books or rolls of paper together. The company has sold over 200 thousand of these.
Cordies are rubberized spacers that hold charger cables and USB cables neatly in a “coral” on a desktop. This product arose from crowdsourced suggestions. The company that makes them sold nearly 350 thousand.