Going Against the Crowd

Going Against the CrowdWith the growing popularity of open innovation, crowdsourcing and web based suggestion schemes where the best ideas are decided by popular votes, many of us tend to forget a very simply truism: creative people do not follow the crowd.

At minimum, they do their own thing. At best, they lead the crowd. Highly creative people tend to be non-conformists who do their own things irrespective of the crowd. Some purposely go against popular trends in order to demonstrate their uniqueness and creativity. Others, often those who are most creative, often seem blithely unaware of the crowd, so focused are they on doing their own things.

Why does this matter? Many tools for creativity and innovation are about attracting not only the crowd for ideas, but also for selecting the “best ideas” among the many ideas submitted by the crowd. Hence the term “crowdsourcing”.

The people who populate and are most active on on-line suggestion schemes are often those who wish to please the crowd — and therefore get the most votes. Those of us who prefer to provoke the crowd know that they are all too likely to be jeered off such web sites. We know that our ideas will most likely be disparaged by the masses. And we know that other highly creative people are equally unlikely to spend time on such on-line places.

What Does This Mean For You?

What does this mean for you? It means you need to think about the true purpose of any crowd-based (whether internal or public) suggestion scheme or idea collection system. Do you wish to get high levels of participation and lots of ideas which focus on incremental improvements? Do you wish to encourage dialogue and participation among large groups of people — with little actual interest in creative ideas? Do you wish to give many people the opportunity to feel good about being creative? Or, do you wish to generate some highly creative ideas that you hope to implement?

Believe it or not, all of these options are perfectly legitimate reasons to collect ideas from groups of people. This is an important truth: very often, idea collection systems are really not at all about innovation. Rather they are about participation and feeling good. However, if you aim to collect truly creative ideas; ideas that have the potential to become breakthrough innovations; ideas that could knock people’s socks off, then you really do not want the crowd. Rather, you want the oddballs, weirdos and rebels who at best stay clear of the crowds and at worst provoke them.

Such people will not participate in your crowdsourced ideation initiative. You will need to find them and engage them one at a time. It can be a lot of work. And it requires working with often overly sensitive people. However, I can promise you one thing: if you can get together five or six diverse and truly creative misfits, you will have a team that can provide you with far more creativity than can a crowd of 1000s using a web based suggestion tool.

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    Jeffrey BaumgartnerJeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a radical new approach to achieving goals through creativity — and an alternative to brainstorming.

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3 Responses to Going Against the Crowd

  1. Well said, Jeffrey. When I see appeals for my “ideas” about how to improve some eocene web workflow, mid-curve logo, or lousy text description, I say to my display “send me an RFP.” Businesses trying to squeeze all costs out of product development and marketing remind me of Chinese “entrepreneurs” stealing IP, or pressing political prisoners into service as unpaid labor. I heard a speaker on Moyers & Company over the weekend theorizing that American industry first offshored American labor, and is now offshoring American consumers. I think we kinda have to say “no” to that.

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