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Crowdsourcing Opens Up a Whole New Talent Pool

With finding and retaining talent being one of the industry’s biggest challenges, maybe it’s time to consider another approach.

If the news these days seems to be less than ideal, all you really need to cheer you up is to go to a trade show. It is there, in those vast physical spaces, such as the recent MODEX 2018 in Atlanta, that talent rules the day. Inventors, thinkers and doers hold court. It is with pure joy that the CEO of a new company, or an engineer at an old-line company, will explain how their creative thinking led to solving a problem the industry was facing.

What if we were to expand the talent currently located under one exhibit hall roof by essentially just removing the roof? We could then tap into an unlimited pool of talent.

That concept is the foundation of crowdsourcing. While it has been used by companies to get ideas on how to improve products, it is now being used to help solve problems as well. And this new model could turn into a new way of sourcing talent.

From a company’s perspective, workforce talent doesn’t have to be located either within the walls of the company or an outsourced company, but instead it could include individuals who are unassociated, asked Andrew McAfee, co-founder of the Initiative on the Digital Economy and a principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management. McAfee delivered a keynote speech at MODEX on the topic of “Harnessing our Digital Future.”

“The crowd is often more capable than the core,” he observes.

And that might be a hard concept to embrace as companies have spent years honing their core competencies. McAfee offered an example of this concept. A government agency, using top medical talent, had found a solution that was 75% effective and worked for a certain number of patients per thousand. They decided to crowdsource the idea, offering $6,000 in prize money for a two-week competition open to anyone—no degrees or experience were necessary. Six people, with no particular medical background, found a solution that was 80% effective (which is statistically important) and greatly reduced the number-per-thousand statistic.

What does this tell us? For one thing, it tells us there is a great deal of untapped knowledge out there. And now we have a platform to source that talent. McAfee believes crowdsourcing will change the way we work. He envisions a model where people aren’t traditional employees, but instead will offer their ideas to companies and retain the intellectual property.

While that might sound odd at first, just think of how inefficient our system is at finding talent given the fact that we preemptively weed out so many minds based on lack of established credentials. This is especially worrisome with the cost of education becoming prohibitive. We are most certainly missing out on great, if untapped, talent.

But now we have a way to access these minds. “Organizations will spring up to build a crowd and tap into that core,” says McAfee. Technology can now create platforms to match the talent with the problems that need to be solved.

If that seems difficult to understand, look at an example of what McAfee refers to as Geeks, who enjoy problem-solving but often don’t like the structure of an organization. If we remove the traditional style of employment with fixed physical locations and chains of commands, and instead just offer up a platform to communicate ideas, using contests with specific criteria, imagine the knowledge that would flow into the process.

It would require a fundamental change in the model of intellectual property as the individual would own the IP and not the company. But that’s a trade companies might be willing to make.

This is all in the early stages but McAfee says it’s currently happening across many areas and has shown positive results.

As all industries are in a struggle for talent, and many of the newer generations of workers are not buying into the concept of working for one company for their entire career (or working for a company at all), this model offers a way to connect the needed talent to the business world in a form of employment that has a wide-appeal to those extraordinary thinkers out there.

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