Posts Tagged ‘shaun abrahamson’
5th February 13
Posted in collaboration
One of the most amazing things about the internet era is people coming together in unique and scalable combinations. Yet organizing crowds is much more difficult than most organizations imagine.
Few people know more about facilitating mass collaboration than Shaun Abrahamson, the CEO of Mutopo. When Shaun talks, we listen. In fact, sometimeswe even ride his coattails on the subject. Shaun recently co-authored a book called Crowdstorm. It was released yesterday, so we invited him to sit down for a Q&A.
You can purchase Crowdstorm here.
Q. Crowdsourcing is used as a label for an ever increasing universe. Where does crowdstorming fit in?
The best way to think about all the facets of crowdsourcing is in terms of what we’re asking participants to do. For example, in microwork, like mechanical turk, we’re asking people to do small things like, tell us if this is porn (to create content filters) or verify a business listing. In crowdfunding, like Kickstarter, we’re asking people for cash and influence (when they announce their support via the social webs). In collaborative consumption, like AirBnB, we’re often asking people to provide assets to be shared, and often their networks and reputation so that we may build trust.
In crowdstorming, we focus on actions that crowds can take in relation to ideas: finding ideas, finding people or organizations to come up with ideas, offering feedback and rating/ranking ideas. Crowdstorming can include ideas through a range of maturity, from the napkin stage through to early stage companies. While writing the book, we realized that some of the basic patterns were pretty old. They had been described by Alex Osborne (the “O” in BBDO) when he introduced the world to brainstorming just after WWII. Osborne was mostly concerned with small groups of people coming up with and evaluating ideas. We just see networked crowds where he saw folks in a conference room.
Q. So is crowdstorming a fancy name for idea contests?
I see contests as a subset of crowdstorming. Crowdstorming tends to fall into 3 broad buckets: search, collaborative, integrated. We think contests fall into the search bucket because they are mainly focused on searching for the best ideas (or candidates, partners, etc). Often the search process is desirable because we have something we can test. Think of XPrize or DARPA Grand Challenges – there are spaceships and robot cars that can compete to see who wins.
Other crowdstorms are more collaborative. This is often true when there aren’t prototypes to race through the desert or fire into space. The key is deciding as early as possible which concepts are worthy of additional time and investment. Following the 1-9-90 rule, think of this collaborative approach as benefiting from the 9 – the “editors” so to speak. Thus while the 1 may submit ideas, the 9 are engaged to provide feedback. And this feedback is used to refine and select ideas. LEGO Cuusoo is good example of a collaborative crowdstorm. It is not so much a contest, as it is a filter. People or teams pitch new LEGO product ideas. The Cuusoo community needs to give the idea 10,000 votes before an idea will be reviewed by the LEGO team. This is where LEGO Minecraft came from.
I use the word “community” quite deliberately here, because when you add feedback, you drastically increase the number of participants and interactions. And if you invite the same group back to pitch and evaluate multiple ideas, you see relationships form. Yes, you see a competitive dynamic, but also a lot more collaboration. And increasingly we see participants being rewarded for more than just their ideas. Just look at the payouts from Giffgaff, which cover a broad range of contribution types, like sales, support and unique participation in the idea processes.
Q. One of the most interesting themes in the book is how innovative organizations scale talent via non-employees. This is a major discussion topic amongst agencies and clients. What companies are doing this best that we can learn from?
I really think this is a question of what patterns you adopt and where in the process you look to outsiders. One of the best illustrations of this type of thinking comes from Quirky. They literally remapped the consumer product development process around where outside talent can provide the most value.
If we look at the process above, Quirky smartly and explicitly positions themselves as the support system for inventors. They know there are lots of difficult steps like industrial design, quality control and distribution negotiations that require their leadership and control. They can manage the risks and quality in these steps. But Quirky also figures out how to measure and reward participation in some specific roles where it knows the crowd can help. Interestingly, measurement and reward systems inside firms are starting to show similar elements – just take a look at Salesforce’s Work.com. I think as we get better at measurement, it will get easier to bring in outside talent to add value to any creative process.
In terms of the ad business, the process below shows Amazon’s approach to the production of filmed content at Amazon Studios. They are taking their expertise from ratings and reviews, and applying it to content development. And if you look at the role of crowdfunding in areas like film development, you can see another voting style. We tend to focus on the finance, but pre-selling also provides a strong indication of the potential of an idea.
Most of the crowdstorm processes we have discussed have focused on finding and evaluating ideas. This is useful, but we forget that behind the ideas are talented individuals. Startup accelerators like Techstars are running idea contests – this is how teams make it into their programs. But they are focused on the ideas as well as the talent. And they offer a different set of incentives to work together; unlike Quirky and Amazon, who own the resulting IP, accelerators just want a small share. They want the teams to take the ideas forward. Techstars recently teamed up with Nike+. Why? Yes, Nike needs developers for their Nike+ platform, but they need a different type of talent, too. In this case it’s talent that is willing to share risks. As a side benefit, Nike will be pitched loads of ideas, so they get to validate their own understanding of the space. And while they might give away ownership, they have tapped into talent that might never have considered working for Nike.
Q. Now a question every author should have to go on the record with…. Who’s your favorite Transformer?
I think I risk being redacted by not saying Optimus, right? But I always liked Wheeljack because he invented stuff, even it mostly didn’t work. But this wasn’t an obvious choice, so I poked around a bit and realized that his first incarnation was a Lancia Stratos Turbo. That car is the embodiment of taking risks and it mostly worked. And it still looks like it might turn into something else. So Wheeljack wins.
Special thanks to Shaun for sharing his thinking with us. If the above is of interest, consider downloading Crowdstorm here. (And thanks BBH Labs for already letting me come back and “guest blog”).
18th January 11A few weeks ago, we posted about what collaborative consumption means for marketers. We found it interesting that the focus on collaboration for most brands tended toward production (innovation, development, etc), but that there wasn’t much noise about the consequence of people collaborating to consume a brand’s products. As is the case often, one of the comments was more insightful than the post. It raised the point that collaboration in consumption actually yields production innovation. Thus, we asked the commenter– Shaun Abrahamson, CEO of Mutopo Colaboratorie– to elaborate.
*** *** ***Author: Shaun Abrahamson (@shaunabe), CEO, Mutopo Colaboratorie
As a guest poster, some additional disclosure is required because my LinkedIn profile is incomplete. I’d like to add:
+ reviewer at Amazon
+ gas refiller at Zipcar
+ traffic data provider at Google Maps
+ plug-in tester at WordPress
+ opinion offerer at Jovoto
+ classifieds editor at Craigslist
+ A/B headline tester at the Huffingtonpost
+ music popularity statistics reporter at Apple
+ idea spreader at Kickstarter
I think most LinkedIn profiles have similar omissions. But that is only part of the problem, because I don’t just do work for organizations, but also for friends and family.
So why it is so important to know who I “work” for or with?
Of people, value creation, costs and revenues
All organizations incur costs to make and communicate – to create, design, develop, produce and distribute products or provide services; to generate awareness, evaluation and trials to generate revenues. Of course many of the costs in doing this relate to things like media buying, IT infrastructure, raw materials, rents and the like, but depending on the business a very large percentage of the costs come directly from paying people (i.e., salaries for ALL the jobs to make the organization function).
So what happens if one of your competitors figures out a way to get some of their work done more cheaply? Fewer people, lower salaries – off shoring and outsourcing over the last 20 years has fundamentally changed developing and developed economies.
Or, what happens when your competitors are able to attract better talent?
Most labour conversations tend to focus on full time employment, but there is another important workforce – they are doing the types of tasks we don’t disclose on our LinkedIn profiles. And they are not just working for organizations as we tend to think of them, but for the benefit of their peers.
Paid vs. earned vs. owned business activities
Recently Rishad Tobaccowala described among other trends for 2011, paid vs. earned vs. owned media. I’d like to steal this idea and expand it to paid vs. earned vs. owned business activities. Not as catchy, but I’ll keep the explanation short.
I believe that some of today’s most successful organizations are figuring out how to earn “business activities” that their competitors still pay for. It’s more visible in part because it has become easier to help people help you. Amazon sells more because so many of us choose to write elegant reviews there and Lego benefits from a relentless flood of new product ideas from their community. Zipcar has us refilling gas tanks in the name of sharing and the Huffington Post generates more pageviews when they learn what we like by observing our choices. Groupon gets us to band together into temporary “big organizations”, so we can get discounts previously only available to real big organizations.
The fundamental change in this collaborative model is that business can create value by “earning” our effort. If you’re looking for inspiration for all the ways in which people can add value, I like the business model canvas or board of innovation (their templates were used to create the diagram above). More specifically, these visual business model tools can be used to quickly highlight the number of ways in which consumers can also be producers, or customers can also be suppliers.
Beyond roles, these visuals also help outline the different value exchanges: from money and fame to reputation and experiences. The diagram at the start of the post was my attempt to describe the various value exchanges happening around this guest post. It is far from complete, but I hope it shows how “customers” also show up as “suppliers” in exchange for a variety of non-financial currencies. Organizations have many new ways to redefine their relationships with the people formerly known as customers (apologies to Jay Rosen).
Why this type collaboration matters to marketers
MIT Center for Collective Intelligence does a great job breaking collaboration down into its DNA – the who, what, why, where and how of collaboration. In Mutopo’s experience on projects like betacup and Life Edited, some of the hard questions have been:
+ why will people participate?
+ what are the right activites and outcomes to focus on?
+ what expertise is required?
+ what can organizations offer in return?
+ how do we quality control?
I don’t know that this is altogether new for marketers (or for markets). We’ve always had to build teams and find talent, but the scale has changed. Some activities will involve large numbers of people accomplishing tasking in a few minutes or in a few weeks. It will mean much more time evaluating what new outcomes we want, who we want to work with, what they want, what they can do, what we can give them and evaluating how they are doing.
Finding talent may feel like human resources’ responsibility, but this is a critical role for marketing. Not only because it can touch current or prospective customers, but because it is another way to create value for the organization beyond driving sales through a funnel. And these collaborations can build on exactly the relationships brands aspire to build anyway. Now they have the additional benefit of greatly expanding the reasons for conversation, as well as the types of conversations we can have. After all, it’s quite engaging to discuss what we can accomplish together.