Information markets, wikis and other applications that tap into the collective intelligence of groups have recently generated tremendous interest. But what”s the reality behind the hype?
Companies have long used teams to solve problems: focus groups to explore customer needs, consumer surveys to understand the market and annual meetings to listen to shareholders. But the words “solve,” “explore,” “understand” and “listen” have now taken on a whole new meaning. Thanks to recent technologies, including many Web 2.0 applications, companies can now tap into “the collective” on a greater scale than ever before. Indeed, the increasing use of information markets, wikis, crowdsourcing, “the wisdom of crowds” concepts, social networks, collaborative software and other Web-based tools constitutes a paradigm shift in the way that many companies make decisions. Call it the emerging era of “Decisions 2.0.”
But the proliferation of such technologies necessitates a framework for understanding what type of collective intelligence is possible (or not), desirable (or not) and affordable (or not) — and under what conditions. At a minimum, managers need to consider the following key issues: loss of control, diversity versus expertise, engagement, policing, intellectual property and mechanism design.
By understanding such important issues, companies like Affinnova, Google, InnoCentive, Marketocracy and Threadless have successfully implemented Decisions 2.0 applications for a variety of purposes, including research and development, market research, customer service and knowledge management. The bottom line is this: For many problems that a company faces, there could well be a solution out there somewhere, far outside of the traditional places that managers might search, within or outside the organization. The trick, though, is to develop the right tool for locating that source and then tap into it.