A review of “Crowdstorm: The Future of Innovation, Ideas and Problem Solving”


The crowdstorm book cover

If you’re a reader of this blog, you know my interest for marketing, innovation and the internet (see also my twitter words). In recent years, I’ve been increasingly blogging about co-creation and crowdsourcing, the latter being an innovative way to use the internet for marketing and innovation-related business issues. Crowdsourcing has become a widely applied technique, used in a variety of ways and for different organizational needs… but testimonials from those who actually do crowdsource are scarce (they exist, but there are still few of them).

Ross Dawson’s Getting Results from Crowds is one of the latest books… but the latest piece to fill the puzzle is Crowdstorm (“The Future of Innovation, Ideas and Problem Solving“), a book written by Shaun Abrahamson, investor and advisor, Pete Ryder, investor, athor and former director or Jovoto in America, and Bastian Unterberg, founder and CEO of Jovoto.

Shaun was kind enough to send me a signed version of the freshly pressed book (I love personalized stuff!), and here’s my review. I received Crowdstorm on Monday and finished reading it on Tuesday evening, that’s how much I liked it. Here’s my review.

My breakfast on Tuesday morning ;-)

My breakfast on Tuesday morning 😉

The first remark is obvious for someone like me, asked to carefully think about terms beore using them: why crowdstorm??? I understand that it’s an adaptation of Alex Osborn’s brainstorming concept, and that it describes “finding the best ideas by brainstorming at internet scale“, but I’m not sure why it is necessary to introduce this new term. After briefly presenting how crowdsourcing (yes, the original term) can deliver value, the authors explain the focus of their book as follows:

We are interested in a particular type of work – the generation and evaluation of ideas [from] short text descriptions like the ones you might find in a suggestion box, to complex prototypes

But still, there has been so much literature about crowdsourcing that I can’t figure out how using such a similar yet different word can make sense… There’s also an existing social shopping site called Crowdstorm (“Impartial buying advice from a crowd of trusted experts“), which makes the choice of the name even more surprising. I guess the choice of crowdstorm and crowdstorming are a matter of branding, and that’s fine since it doesn’t hinder us to understand the rest of the book. It’s just puzzling for someone like me, who tends to use and adapt existing references (like “creative crowdsourcing“) rather than create new terms.

Anyway, the authors highlight early in the book that…

For those who have worked with crowdsourcing, open innovation, cocreation (sic), or mass collaboration, the benefits [or crowdstorming] are already familiar

Indeed, in chapter 1 called “First, Some Context”, the authors present already well-know examples such as the Goldcorp Challenge, Lego Mindstorms, Lego Cuusoo, GE Ecomagination or the Starbucks Betacup Challenge, to illustrate the emerging paradigm of working with crowds. In the highly interesting chapter 2 about intellectual property arangements, we also see references to familiar cases like P&G’s Develop+Connect, and Apple’s or Googles application ecosystems.

I also discovered the partnership, initiated in early 2012, between crowdsourcing pioneer Threadless and clothing retailer GAP. “Crowdstorming provides [GAP] with a steady stream of fresh ideas and allows them to deliver products with good margins that have been vetted by the creative community,” the authors explain on page 82. The partnership is still active, and it seems to be working out well. It’s another very similar illustration of this trend of crowd-based businesses moving into the real retail world, another one being Quirky’s retail partnerships.

Even though this part is very well-written and full of interesting examples, I would have appreciated more original examples, such as the Triple Eight design contest that is detailed in the chapter, as well as the IP challenges associated to these unique examples. But more examples appear page after page, and overall you get a broad scope of examples at the end. This is good and makes it a very practical book, grounded in the authors’ experience of organizing crowdstorming initiatives.

And, as I mention in the beginning, I think that the authors’ practical experience outweighs the lack of theoretical contribution. The book doesn’t describe something new, but it elaborates on the success factors of crowdstorming, providing invaluable insights for those who want to leverage the crowd’s creativity for their business.

redesign-army-knife-crowdsourcing

At the end of Chapter 9, the book provides some interesting background about the Swiss Army Knife project (Jovoto) whose resulting limited edition collection sold 20% better than any of the company’s previous ones

Beside the examples, some original and unique contributions of the books are:

  • The part related to the stimulation of the crowd‘s creativity (“Ask the Right Questions“)
  • The part related to the ecosystem around a crowdstorming initiative (“Build the Coalition“)
  • The part explaining the importance of community management, and the city analogy of community management (“Manage Communities to Facilitate Great Outcomes” and “Understand Participant Contributions“)
  • The part elaborating on choosing winners among participants (“Reign in the Tyranny of Ideas”, read it here)

By writing this book, the authors generously share their knowledge on how to conduct so-called crowdstorm initiatives. “By learning the processes and gathering the right tools, you’ll be able to attract and motivate talent to improve your approaches to complex problem solving,” the back cover explains. And I must admit that it does this very well. Everything is in there, and I think it’s perfectly generalizable to many different crowdsourcing initiatives and platforms.

But beside sharing these fascinating insights, let’s also underline that the objective is not only to empower company people to crowdstorm on their own… but also to hook the readers up with Mutopo (the company Shaun Abrahamson is affiliated with) and Jovoto (the company Peter Ryder and Bastian Unterberg are affiliated with), no? Books are the new business cards, Ryan Holiday wrote last September in Fast Company, and by writing this book the authors brand the term crowdstorming and signal their credibility in conducting creative ideation online. This is not criticism, this is an ackonledgement: great business card!

Comments are welcome, don’t hesitate to share your thoughts below.

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7 Comments

  1. Nice job as usual Yannig!
    I like the “new business card” idea. Hadn’t heard that before.
    I totally agree that good examples are always useful.

    Reply

  2. Thank you for the kind words, Yannig. We know you love and explore the space in detail, so you positive feedback means a great deal.

    On the examples. The point is well taken. We tried to mix up our personal experience, with known public examples. We have a few cases that didnt make it into the final edit, so we’ll share these in coming weeks. Do you think it makes sense to focus on examples in some of the “original” areas you mentioned like choosing winners or measuring contributions? We have a few more new cases that we could focus on these areas.

    On the name. This was tough. In fact we originally had a brief focused on very different concept for a contest on (now closed) prizes.org. As we reached the end of the first draft, the crowdstorm name seemed to best capture what we were describing. And more importantly, for people not familiar with crowd enabled businesses, the bridge to brainstorming seemed much easier to grasp.

    Love the business card idea, but my main motivation was to explain what I do, to my family 🙂 Certainly hope it results in other opportunities, too.

    Reply

    1. I definitely think it would make sense too find out more about them. I liked these parts because I haven’t seen these topics addressed in the literature today. Your expertise is needed to advance this knowledge, more examples please 😉

      Reply

  3. Thanks for the review. Point taken on the title. Good to hear that well known examples as well as lesser known have currency in the context.

    Reply

  4. Thanks for sharing Yannig, I’ve loved the Goldcorp examples since it happened. Having lived in Ontario’s mining belt and now working with Capgemini and our Utility clients, that exampled comes to mind, a lot. I particularly am interested in how that example informs the tsunami of data that is sweeping across every utility company that has started to work with smart meters and other sensing devices. Finding the best of the best ideas for how to manage that “goldmine of data” cannot be fare behind. Have you had occasion to work with any of my colleagues in our Global Innovation practice? They use tools and processes to enable all of the above.

    Reply

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