Upcoming webinar: 2024 FAA Data Challenge Information Session - May 22, 2024, 11 a.m. PDT

A Total Beginner's Guide to Crowdsourcing

BY MAUREEN MURTHA | 10 min read

“If opportunity knocks, open the door…”

That is what they say, but exactly what door should opportunity knock on? If you’re a business, should opportunity knock on your office door? Is there an opportunity department where it should present itself? If you’re a dreamer or an entrepreneur how are you supposed to recognize opportunity when it knocks?

What if there was a way to incite an opportunity?

What if you could tell the world about your hopes and your struggles-- and then build a door for the opportunities on which the world can knock?

This is what crowdsourced innovation is all about

While some people experience luck as a random act of fate, others believe in their ability to make luck. The same goes for opportunity: you may struggle with your goals. You may simply attempt to overcome challenges by using the resources on hand.

Many cultures teach that asking for help is ‘weakness’. Many people are raised to believe that it is dangerous to admit struggle. Unfortunately, many others have developed an aversion to advice-- fearing that if they accept input from others it may threaten their value. It may demean their social status. Even worse, many people believe that listening to others will threaten their position of "authority." This doesn't have to be you!

Telling other people about your struggles and your dreams is the core of “vulnerability”.  To many, vulnerability just sounds like a dirty word. However, as Brene Brown emphasizes in her books and TED talksvulnerability and courage are inseparable. The vulnerability we experience directly is, in fact, a way to courageous action, innovation, and breakthrough.

You Can Manufacture Opportunity

As James Baillie, of IdeaScale, insists: “Innovation is repeatable." You just have to build the door for opportunity and innovation to knock upon.  HeroX is that door. Crowdsourced incentive challenges enable you to tell your hopes and your struggles to the world. Build the door, and you will be pleasantly surprised at who comes knocking.

Time is short, and the task at hand seems impossible, but there's simply no getting around it. Something needs to get done.  Does this sound like a familiar scenario? 
If you answered "yes," that is not surprising. It is easy for our eyes to be bigger than our stomach -- or rather, actual capacity to get things done.  So what now? You may not have considered it, but there are many benefits of tapping into the collective mind-power of the entire world.

Makes sense, right?

However, perhaps the biggest appeal of that approach is the ability to tackle very difficult problems in an incredibly short period.
We call it crowdsourcing

Here's how it works: first, think of a task you need to accomplish. If it is not your unique ability, outsource it. Delegate. Hand it off. Watch it get done. With this simple rule, you will not believe how fast your productivity will skyrocket.  While it is not a new concept, it did take a while to catch on in a big way. Its history is a long one.

Historical Precedent

The Billiard Ball Prize of 1863 spurred innovation and experimentation that led to the creation of celluloid. Celluloid was not right for pool balls, but it ended up being the foundation of the modern plastics industry.  The ancient Babylonians are even thought to have had their kind of crowdsourcing, in a very raw and unfiltered form. Somewhere around 425 B.C., Herodotus wrote that “...when a man is ill, they lay him in the public square, and the passers-by come up to him, and if they have ever had his disease themselves ... they give him advice … and no one is allowed to pass the sick man in silence without asking him what his ailment is.”

Pretty amazing that something so simple was probably one of the more effective methods -- and quite frankly, not much has changed. Today crowdsourcing is getting a lot more common, and most of it is done online. These days you are probably still better off seeing a licensed physician for any actual illness, though...maybe not for long?

So much to do, so little time

Crowdsourcing is all about delegating tasks. If you do it well, you delegate tasks to the right people, who can get things done most efficiently.

Everyone has experience with something like crowdsourcing: when an office manager assigns projects to different people; a homeowner hires a landscaping company to take care of the lawn; you go to a restaurant --paying other people to find food, cook it, and bring it to you, so you do not have to do it.

Time is valuable, and ideally it is spent in the most productive way.  While true in our personal lives, crowdsourcing offers an even more effective approach on a massive scale; dealing with problems of general public concern. It is amazing what you can accomplish with some prize money.

There's no way to say exactly how much time you save by crowdsourcing, but the fact is that it frequently works. Just take a look at some completed incentive challenges for evidence. 

Businesses and organizations can now crowdsource solutions to their problems, actually employing bright minds all around the world. People with different backgrounds bring a new perspective to challenges that seemed intractable, often coming up with novel solutions. Offer a reasonable reward, and smart, motivated people from around the world will answer your call.

Crowdsourcing gets things done

If you can tap into the intelligence of the whole world, you can start thinking big. Big-big. People and groups have successfully crowdsourced all sorts of ambitious projects. Not only physical products and clever gadgets but conceptual products as well:  ideas.

The Ansari XPRIZE is one of the most well known in recent memory. A $10 million prize for a manned spacecraft that could reach the edge of our atmosphere, twice within two weeks. Moreover, a nice side effect was the creation of the private space industry. (Fun fact: HeroX is an offshoot of the XPRIZE, designed to make the power of incentive challenges available to everyone)

Most crowdsourced incentive challenges do not have the same kind of prize pool, and they focus on more down-to-Earth problems. However, they can be just as impactful.

Examples include developing a real-time fact checking system, to make political claims and statements instantly verifiable – or falsifiable, whichever the case may be -- or comprehensive plans to improve the lives of people living with autism. Some are more creative ventures, like a short film competition using actual NASA imagery.

The time of the crowdsourced solution has come. Lego wants your help to create new Lego sets (the dream of anyone whose imagination was stymied by the instructions). You can help beer companies build a better beer. Alternatively, be a scientist in your spare time and discover new galaxies and species.

Crowdsourcing is even being used to help save dead languages, by bringing together native speakers and collecting examples of it in use.

If you can formulate the problem and offer the right incentive to people, there is no limit to what you can get done by tapping into the power of crowds. You can access an incredibly wide pool of talent, and create incredible value from the treasures you find there.

So, what problem do you want to solve? If you are not right for the job or just don't have time, you now have all the tools you need right here to start your own crowdsourced incentive challenge

How long does it take to change the world?

Now that you have decided to take the plunge, you are probably wondering how long something like this takes. Every crowdsourcing challenge is different, and timing is perhaps one of the most crucial. In building an effective crowdsourcing campaign, you will need to create a schedule that matches the scope and the needs of your contest.

You are probably excited, ready to see what kind of ideas people can come up with. This is natural because you are about to something revolutionary. By all means, keep that excitement, but be realistic too. Gut-checking is a wonderfully effective tool. In the midst of the New Campaign Energy you are feeling, ask yourself questions like these:

  • When does the challenge open?
  • When are submissions due?
  • Do you need more than one round of submissions?
  • When will the winner(s) be announced?

These are all important questions, and the answers will determine how long your challenge should run.

If you have a special event you want to use, perhaps for announcing the winners, use that date and work backward from there. If you do not have a special date to use, your challenge timeline can be a bit more flexible.

Check out some typical timeframes below for each stage of the challenge, along with tips on how to use them wisely:

StageRecommended TimeframeTip
Pre-Registration (optional)2 weeks to 1 monthAllow enough time to generate news and excitement around the challenge but don’t drag it on for too long or else people may lose interest.
Enter to Submission Deadline

30 to 90 days (Ideation)

One year or more (Proof of Concept)

Take into consideration what you are asking competitors to submit when determining this timeframe. Also, it’s always best to extend your deadline rather than have the challenge run for too long and once again, run the risk of competitors losing interest.
Judging4 to 6 weeksGive the voting finalists and yourself enough time to promote this stage. It also gives the voters themselves time to cast their vote when it is convenient for them.
Voting (optional)1 to 2 weeksGive the voting finalists and yourself enough time to promote this stage. It also gives the voters themselves time to cast their vote when it’s convenient for them.
Winner Announcement1 to 2 weeks after Judging (or Voting)If you decide to have the winner(s) fill out due diligence and payment forms, this allows enough time for them to be completed and for you to review for any issues.

Some HeroX challenge creators add in some extra stages to suit their particular contest, and you can use them too. Some of those options include:

  • A registration deadline: This would only allow competitors to sign up for a set amount of time.
  • Qualifying round: This would require competitors to submit an entry on a designated date before the final submission deadline, to prove they are qualified to move on (mainly for proof of concept challenges). This is usually a deliverable that's related to the main goal. This stage allows the challenge creator to give feedback to competitors and keep them engaged.
  • Leaderboard update: This is usually utilized during Proof of Concept challenges. If your challenge requires competitors to submit multiple entries throughout the competition, you can provide updates on the challenge page to let everyone following it know who is in the lead. This is not always an applicable stage, but it can be a great way to drive competition and keep those not participating in it engaged.

So get scheduling! The sooner you plan out your incentive challenge, the sooner the innovators can start sending in their ideas. 

Let's Talk About Your Message

OK, you have got an idea, an outline, and the conviction to tap the crowd.  Now, how will you frame your message to get that crowd interested?

Also, most importantly: why should people be driven to participate?

The challenge before your challenge is this: messaging! No matter how important your challenge is, you need a compelling messaging to draw participants and innovators to compete.

Below, we have eight messaging resources that will help you simplify, segment, and market your message to players your challenge needs for success.

  1. What is your WHY?
    Don’t dismiss the simplicity of Simon Sinek’s message. What is your WHY? Why are you creating this challenge? What is your core drive? Boil your ‘why’ into a single sentence, and you have a foundation to build upon.
  2. Crafting a Problem Statement
    “A problem well stated is a problem half solved”. You are familiar with the problem you are trying to solve. So familiar, your explanation may skip over simple components of the problem you take for granted. State the problem in a way which anyone can understand using Who, What, Where, When, and Why.
  3. Shaping Your Pitch
    Can you communicate your WHY, your problem, and your desired solution in less than 2 minutes? Whether it’s in person or online, if your challenge message is not concise, it will be lost.
  4. Segmentation
    How many communities are you attempting to reach? Your messaging will be more effective if you craft a unique message for each community. Ie: Craft one message for specialists and a different message for hobbyists. If you craft a different message for different “tribes” more people will engage in your challenge.
  5. Messaging for sponsors and partners
    What message do you send out to potential sponsors and potential partners? You know what kind of innovators you want… But what kind of sponsors do you want? How will you communicate to those sponsors? Let Jason Zook tell you about his life-- a life entirely subsidized by sponsorships.
  6. The Value of the Breakthrough
    Do you have their attention? NOW communicate the value of the breakthrough. You can elaborate or demonstrate the significance. Listen to this episode of How I built this where Sara Blakely seals a deal demonstrating the breakthrough of her invention.
  7. Content generation (for Facebook, Twitter, G+, Instagram, etc.)
    Your messaging doesn’t end when your challenge begins. You will want to maintain your messaging throughout your HeroX Challenge. As your challenge progresses, you will want to communicate on social media in a way which will enable your innovators and sponsors to share challenge events and progress.
  8. Media promotion (press release, interviews, etc.)
    As your crowdsourcing project is nearing its conclusion, it is important for you to reach out to conventional media outlets. This will help you expand challenge awareness in the 11th hour. It is also important to create photogenic events for tv, print, and radio. If you cannot film the excitement-- it is not happening… Reach out to journalists, impress upon them the importance of your challenge, and its relevance to the world.


Let Go of What You "Know."

This is the risk of today's world: a surplus of academic specialists who have honed themselves down. This is, after all, required for climbing academic and corporate ladders successfully. In doing so, however, we run the risk of winnowing ourselves into to a thin subset of skills and knowledge. This kind of focus is limiting our imagination and skews perspective.

Comparative advantage is the impetus for specialization, no mystery there. It has also become somewhat of a general economic prescription for our lives and career success. Unfortunately, too much focus can lead to limited perspective, siloed departments, and vocational biases. These problems can disrupt communication and stunt innovation like nothing else.

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

This expression is born from Abraham Maslow’s Law of Instrument. The French call it deformation professionnelle. Both phrases describe the human tendency to view problems and opportunities through a narrow lens shaped by the limited tools, and vocational training one has.

Diversify Your Audience

The most effective way to diversify your skills and perspective is through your social behavior. “You are the average of the five people you associate with most…” Tim Ferriss, of The Four-Hour Work Week fame, advises.

While most people have a peer group built upon similar interests and professions, it is possible to intentionally craft a social network to compliment your skills and perspectives. Imagine slotting all of your friends into one of the following archetypes:

  1. Hunters
  2. Explorers
  3. Journalists
  4. Ecologists
  5. Engineers
  6. Diplomats/Influencers
  7. Builders
  8. Healers
  1. Retailers
  2. Farmers
  3. Artists
  4. Gurus
  5. Teachers
  6. Community Organizers
  7. Philosophers
  8. Leaders

Did you have one for all sixteen? If you did not even come close, you might have "thought diversity" problem. 
No worries! Now you have a template for the friends and connections necessary to counteract your déformation professionnelleMoreover, what a fun problem to have! Get out there and make some new ones.

Think Broadly

Keep in mind that you are not seeking out a literal “hunter” with a gun rack or a “professional philosopher" at your local college.

Your assessments are open to interpretation. If you are a programmer or an engineer, the “hunter” most relevant to your life could be someone from your company sales team.  A “hunter” could be a white-hat hacker who tracks down system flaws or identity thieves. You get the idea.

Now you have a roadmap for "whole human" networking, collaboration, and ultimately...crowdsourcing. These methods will provoke personal and professional innovation, as long as you give it an earnest shot. 


more like this
Data Science
Who was Robert J. McEliece and the people behind this Cryptosystem?
Learn more about the mathematicians behind one of the world's most secure annd valuable cryptosystems.
1 min read
Data Science
Scalability of New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) and their Global Impact
Check out these five potential impacts that NAMs could have on the scale of medical research across the whole world.
3 min read
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) in Biomedical Research
Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools are poised to play a crucial role in advancing New Approach Methodologies (NAMs), complementing and unlocking the improvements that can be achieved with these new methodologies.
2 min read