Crowdstorming – Collaborative Brainstorming Is Here To Stay

Brainstorming has long been one of the most effective ways for individuals of all walks of life to solve problems.

It’s a method of processing and creating information that is as old as the hills, and for good reason — it simply works.

As any modern professional knows, however, technology has made it easier to collaborate with others than ever in the past.

Thus, we have a new method for solving problems in the information age, and it’s called “crowdstorming.”

What is Crowdstorming?

At its most basic level, crowdstorming can be viewed as a symbiotic relationship between brainstorming and crowdsourcing, the latter of which has had a major impact on both small and large businesses over the course of the past decade.

It’s important to identify the difference between crowdsourcing and crowdstorming before delving further into the topic, however.

Crowdsourcing typically refers to a process of getting outside opinions, perhaps in regards to a company’s products or services.

It’s a great method for gaining insight into what is working and what is not and has been put to good use in a variety of different industries.

The Internet has made it exceptionally easy for consumers to post comments and reviews about practically anything, and while this information isn’t always called upon via an official request, businesses can get a lot of mileage by paying attention.

Crowdstorming is aimed more towards a collaborative effort, encompassing everything that is important about working with others to reach a greater goal.

It typically follows guidelines that have been carefully laid out and tends to be less casual in nature than crowdsourcing.

The “brainstorming” element is crucial here, as those who turn to crowdstorming typically do so because there is a problem that needs to be solved. It can be viewed as a collaborative method for fixing an issue or preparing a product/service for launch, and it’s catching on like wildfire.

Before Crowdstorming There Was Crowdsourcing. And Before That, There Was Brainstorming.

While elements of crowdstorming have been around for quite sometime, the process (and term) itself is relatively new.

For many years, in-house brainstorming had been the secret weapon for many businesses. A challenge would present itself, and an individual or team within an organization would sit down to come up with and outline any/all potential solutions.

Brainstorming can be a very organic process, and at times it’s quite effective.

This being said, there are some cases that can’t be cracked without a little bit of outside information.

Enter crowdsourcing.

When crowdsourcing first began to enter into the collective consciousness of the business community, it was viewed as somewhat of a happy accident. Companies could now turn to the Internet to find unbiased opinions about their products and services, which could then be used to streamline future projects and improve product development.

Some businesses would actively call upon consumers for opinions, while others would sit back and simply take note of comments being made without their intervention.

Crowdsourcing added a major “social” element to the business landscape, allowing companies and consumers to interact in ways that were never before possible.

As one might expect, there’s a certain level of interconnectedness between brainstorming and crowdsourcing that cannot be ignored — both can be viewed as effective methods for working towards solving a problem. It was only a matter of time before they would be combined to create crowdstorming, which takes the best elements of each and allows them to work in harmony with one another.

Crowdstorming, then, is one of the most modern and forward-thinking ways to tackle a difficult situation, and it’s only going to increase in popularity as more and more people become aware of how to harness its power.

Types of Crowdstorming

There are a few ways in which one can approach crowdstorming, and which you use most often depends upon the situation at hand.

At the base level, think of what task it is that the crowd is actually being asked to carry out.

The first type, In its simplest form, crowdstorming is used as a means for coming up with ideas, which could include plans for a marketing campaign, ideas for developing new prototypes, etc. Typically, either a specific community or the general public will be called upon in hopes of gaining this information — remember that targeting isn’t necessarily “better” than looking to the general public for ideas.

Secondly, on a more complex level, there may be additional tasks associated with crowdstorming. At this stage of the collaboration process, a second or third group may be tasked with rating and evaluating a set of ideas created by the first group. This can be thought of in terms of being a filtration process of sorts, thinning out the herd of ideas until only those which are most viable remain. More often than not, companies that embrace crowdstorming end up at this point in the process when looking to develop a new product or service, as extra levels of validation can help to ensure that a launch is successful.

And the third most common type of crowdstorming is perhaps the most complex of all, thanks to the fact that the crowd is responsible for nearly every aspect of the process. In some scenarios, there are no means other than turning to crowds when attempting to source feedback or ideas. This is a common situation that happens with start-ups, as they don’t usually have the same resources to go off of that an established business might. Even though there is more room for error the more complex a crowdstorming project gets, true magic can happen when everything comes together at this level.

Internal vs. External Crowdstorming

Most people who are new to crowdstorming tend to think that the majority of the process involves calling on outside parties in order to gain information and ideas.

While there is a fair amount of validity to this notion, it’s important to understand that crowdstorming can be performed internally as well as externally.

In external crowdstorming, the public (or a targeted subset) is called upon to submit ideas, comments and anything else that might be helpful to a company. When properly performed, external crowdstorming can yield great results, all the while furthering a company’s social image. Internal crowdstorming is quite similar, although the pool of individuals being called upon is entirely different.

With internal crowdstorming, a firm extends its problem-solving methods beyond what it might normally, all the while sticking to those who are either part of or associated with the organization. This could mean calling upon employees from a different division or geographic location, or perhaps even enlisting the help and ideas of vendors/suppliers. Internal crowdstorming tends to be less loose and more organized than the alternative, although each comes with its own set of risks and benefits.

The most important difference to note between internal and external crowdstorming comes down to the fact that the former makes use of a crowd that is well-known to the company conducting the research. It could come in a variety of different forms, ranging from simple questions to employees from management (in which answers would be aggregated) to a dedicated portal created specifically for the submission of ideas and feedback.

Familiarity with an organization can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to crowdstorming, which is why the most effective method for receiving ideas and information from a crowd is to take both an internal and an external approach, combining and analyzing the results of each method.

Crowdstorming in Popular Culture. The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.

Sometimes, the best way to go about understanding a new concept, like crowdstorming, is to take a look at how and where it fits into popular culture.

Taking just the last few years into consideration, there are a variety of different examples of crowdstorming that are worth analyzing, some of which have been more effective than others.

~ The Good ~

Take a look at American Idol, for example, one of the most popular television shows in recent history. The show employs crowdstorming on a multitude of levels, in that it not only seeks to bring in and promote new talent, but also works to change the relationship viewers have with each of its contestants. It’s a brilliant employment of crowdstorming, perhaps even more so because of the fact that most people don’t even realize the connection until they really put some thought into it.

GE’s Ecomagination project is another fine example of crowdstorming, allowing consumers to contribute ideas and knowledge that can be used to help reduce the company’s environmental impact. It’s a “win-win” situation that is turning a lot of heads, and for good reason.

~ The Bad ~

On the other side of the spectrum are examples of crowdstorming in popular culture that haven’t been quite as effective, most notably being the public-sourced “naming contests.” 

NASA held an online public vote, whereas they attempted to crowdstorm / crowdsource a name for a new room to be added to the international space station. This new room is slated to have lots of big windows and a machine that will turn astronauts’ urine into water. So what happened? Comedian Stephen Colbert convinced many of his fans to write in his name. And guess what? He won. However, a NASA spokesman was quoted that “The name Colbert doesn’t quite fit with the NASA theme.” An example of a not-so-good attempt at crowdstorming.

~ The Ugly ~

Mountain Dew held a crowdsourcing campaign to name a new flavor of soda. They allowed people to type in names, hit a submit button, and the names appeared in a rated order on the website. Well, it didn’t take long before the campaing was hijacked and ultimately spammed with names that were not so “family friendly.” This caused Mountain Dew to have to bite the bullet and publicly state that “Dub the Dew definately lost to the Internet.”

Now, there’s a reason the “naming contests” are a dying breed, and it simply comes down to poor organization, little planning, and the underlying factors that motivate them.

Crowdstorming is best used as a method for solving a problem, yet “naming contests” are typically geared towards building conversation and engagement. As a result, such contests often end in failures, most often due to a lack of guidance and no true centralized goal for people to get on-board with.

Tips for Implementing Crowdstorming

Once you get a basic handle on the concept of crowdstorming, it typically seems as if implementing it in a way that might benefit your business would be relatively easy.

There’s nothing more important than taking a methodical approach to crowdstorming that will lower your chances of running into a risky scenario.

For those who have never carried out a crowdstorming campaign before, this can be easier said than done.

Working off of the following tips, however, can serve as an excellent way to get started.

  • Clarify Your Question / Problem – Every solution starts with a problem, which is in many ways why crowdstorming exists in the first place. Clarifying the question or problem that you’re seeking a solution to will help to streamline your crowdstorming campaign, as well as make it easier for a crowd to offer ideas and feedback. If your pool of individuals doesn’t understand the issue at hand, after all, they’re going to have an exceptionally hard time providing you with useful information.
  • Come Up with a Reward – While you might be lucky enough to stumble upon individuals who are willing to provide you with feedback without expecting anything at all in return, you’ll have a much better chance of eliciting great ideas if there is a reward in place for candidates who have the best input. This can range from money to attention and everything in between, and the “right” reward will depend upon your industry, the crowd you poll and other factors. Make the reward known ahead of time whenever possible.
  • Choose Your Croudsourcing software platform – We have you covered here with our Communifire platform (shameless plug). However, there are plenty of other options out there if you do a simple google search.
  • Recruit Your Crowd – Choose carefully when recruiting a crowd to work with. It could be as diverse as the general public, which works great for large firms. Smaller companies, on the other hand, may do best by starting out with internal crowdstorming, or perhaps turning to a targeted subset of the community. Every type of crowd will elicit a different type of response, so keep this in mind when choosing who to work with.
  • Narrow it Down – Once you’ve been inundated with ideas and information, take the time to sort through it all and determine which ideas are the most viable. This can be a time-consuming process, but there’s nothing more important than delivering on your promises and following the process through to the very end. You may want to work with a group of individuals at this stage of the game, as it can be overwhelming to make such decisions on your own.
  • Deliver the Goods – The key to an effective crowdstorming campaign typically comes in at the very end of the process. If you ever wish to work with a crowd again, you’ve got to deliver on the promises you’ve made. This means more than simply giving up those rewards you set in place early on, however — you’ve got to bring the ideas that you’ve chosen to life. If a crowdstorming campaign fails, it’s typically because the products, services or plans discussed throughout the process don’t actually get put into action, which basically means the entire campaign was a waste of time, energy and money. Whatever you do, don’t allow your business to fall into this category. 

Crowdstorming and Social Intranet Software

Social intranet software is one of the most effective technological developments to affect the professional world in years. It allows firms to communicate not only internally, but externally with customers and partners as well.

Since it can be used as a platform for customer support, it should come as no surprise that this type of software can also serve as an excellent jumping-off point for businesses that are looking to conduct a crowdstorming campaign.

Social intranet software works best for crowdstorming when used on a targeted level, where a business might invite a specific subset of individuals to join an online community and thus begin offering ideas and feedback.

The beauty of using social intranet software for this reason is that it allows people to communicate back and forth with one another, creating a true conversation rather than a collection of random ideas. Because new ideas can come from having such a discussion, the process can often be expedited, saving money for the organization and time for the crowd being polled.

Results are typically higher in quality, less “all over the map” and, in the end, more viable than those gained from other crowdstorming methods.

The Future of Crowdstorming

It’s fair to assume that crowdstorming has a bright future in the business community at large.

Technology has made it exceptionally easy to poll a crowd and gain outside information, and as things like social intranet software become more and more streamlined, crowdstorming will only get easier.

It’s likely that it will also take a turn towards a more ratings-based system, not unlike that associated with credit scores, which so many people are already familiar with. A more effective, perhaps centralized rating system will help to quantify things in a way that will make it easier to choose viable ideas from a pool of information.

Even more exciting is the opportunity for crowdstorming to shift in a slightly different direction than it is moving in today.

While it’s an excellent way to source information and feedback, there is a great deal of potential in crowdstorming for bringing together a team of experts to find the solution to a particular problem. When viewed at this level, crowdstorming extends far beyond the realm of business — it could change the way we approach problems as large as cancer, war, and political strife.

There’s a lot to take into consideration when learning about crowdstorming, and it can take a while before you’re ready to dive in. Once you get comfortable with the concept, however, don’t hesitate to think of ways in which it can be used to benefit you or your business.

The more problem-solving methods you have in your toolkit, the more likely it is that you’ll find success.


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Written by

Tim Eisenhauer is a co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.


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