Brainstorming washed away. Crowdsourcing here to stay.

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In the past, when a company wanted to improve a product or service, they would hold a internal “brainstorming meeting” where key employees would gather around a conference room table to come up with creative solutions. More often than not, “brainstorming meetings” turned out to be nothing more than a good excuse to gulp down the company coffee and share some Krispy Kreme goodies. If you really want to try the same thing on a mass scale, try crowdsourcing. According to Wikipedia,

“crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people or community in the form of an open call.”

It’s fitting that Wikipedia defines crowdsourcing since they are one of the finest example themselves. Other examples abound. Think the online t-shirt design company Threadless where anyone can post a design online and achieve t-shirt design fame.  If you have access to a large pool of people, crowdsourcing may be a good problem solving solution for you or your company. In a recent New York Times article, the personal-technology columnist twittered an assignment to his followers to brainstorm product enhancement ideas for gadgets (cellphone, home theater, camera, laptop and music player) and was able to tap into a large audience. The result was a lot of good thinking from a lot of smart people. But just like the brainstorming days of old, his responders came up with thinking that wasn’t so fresh. The trick is to be a good editor and to choose which ideas have merit, and which ideas are not worth pursuing. To check out some of the innovations that made the brainstorm pile, click here . Another example that I came across on the Internets is a recent article posted on for Vitaminwater which plans to enlist fans via Facebook to help design the next vitaminwater blockbuster drink. Think “American Idol” for products. In fact, Coca-Cola Co’s Glacéau, the maker of vitamin water, is enlisting past American Idol winner Carrie Underwood to help with the judging. Creative types can put their two cents in everything from the recipe of the drink to the design of the bottle. Is crowdsourcing the next big thing? If nothing else, it looks like it’s giving brainstorming a run for it’s money.

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