Rallying an online crowd to help businesses innovate and stimulate growth is a 21st century phenomena – a modern business tool that is particularly appealing to smart entrepreneurs looking to innovate.

Technological advancement, including social media, means it is now easier than ever for companies to outsource work beyond their geographical or organizational boundaries.

Crowdsourcing to boost business creativity
Coined in 2006 by Jeff Howe of Wired magazine, the term ‘crowdsourcing’ has been used to describe the act of asking a mass of people to do a particular task. The concept gained traction in computer programming, allowing companies to ‘opensource’ ideas from freelancers in order to deliver great products.

“opensource ideas from freelancers in order to deliver great products”

The commercial value of crowdsourcing isn’t lost on corporates either, with organisations such as oil company ‘Shell’ early adopters. The technique has been used to develop its innovative GameChanger programme as a way of cultivating thousands of project ideas.

The model can be invaluable to smaller businesses too – allowing them to source expertise and ideas from a pool of talent beyond their ordinary reach. A large task can be broken down into components, which are then outsourced – particularly helpful when looking to find new ways of working to fuel growth. Although a large firm might pay for all ideas submitted, a smaller business can just pay for the best idea and perhaps reward other submissions with non-cash rewards such as vouchers or products.

Quality control when hiring via opensource
Crowdsourcing should never just be about finding cheap labour. While it may true that outsourcing jobs to workers in Malaysia may be cheaper than employing someone in Manchester, any good firm will focus on quality.

“Crowdsourcing should never be about finding cheap labour – it’s vital to focus on quality”

There is a world of expertise and experience available to organisations willing to be targeted in selection. That’s why it’s important to understand the potential of this valued resource, rather than focus on a ‘quick fix’ or cost focused solution alone. The business benefits generated by the right partners can quickly outweigh any short term cost implications.

Allow yourself to be customer led
Many of us are used to using customer reviews when selecting a hotel or restaurant. But it’s often overlooked as a valuable business research tool. Genuine user insights – whether solicited or not – can highlight product features or user experiences which are all too easy to miss when you are part of the process.

While it’s important to look at feedback objectively, the power of the consumer crowd is an often untapped aid for development.

A powerful business game changer
Crowdsourcing can produce a genuine competitive edge in both innovation and development and cannot be ignored by organisations that are serious about growth. With research company Gartner predicting that by 2017 more than 50% of consumer goods will receive 75% of their consumer innovation and R&D capabilities from crowdsourced solutions, the concept is a powerful business game changer.