We all know that the world’s first collaborative encyclopedia would not be possible without crowdsourcing – but how else do companies make this concept work? And moreover, how can you, the reader, use it to further your business? Barry Libert and Jon Spector’s new book We are Smarter than Me: How to Unleash the Power of Crowds in Your Business is a mini-encyclopedia of crowdsourcing for business, describing over 60 examples of companies (including background information and their processes) that harnessed the community hive to great success. As the title implies, the authors take the concept a step further, offering suggestions as to how readers can use crowdsourcing to increase the profitability of their company and, true to their collaborative mindset, they give credit to, and pepper the book with quotes from their own online community contributors.
Businesses are “getting smarter by tapping the collective brainpower of community,” declare the authors early on. "Savvy companies are turning to the Internet hordes for help with new product development, customer service, sales, production, finance, and even management. They prosper by searching out, nurturing and tapping the expertise of individual online communities, customers included."
The concept of Crowdsourcing has been getting some much needed attention of late (with the popularity of books such as Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams’ Wikinomics and James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds). Indeed, many businesses do use crowdsourcing to help them (the most popular instance being Wikipedia). But the book is laudable for presenting other lesser known instances, and profiling businesses which employ the concept in unexpected ways.
The book demonstrates that people want to be experts and share their experience (e.g. VirtualTourist), want to offer advice about a product they’re fond of to their peers (e.g. Cookshack), are willing to give feedback for rewards (e.g. Virgin Mobile USA’s Sugar Mama program), and can be mobilized for a common goal or to invest in a company (e.g. Common Angels). In fact, in describing Netflix’s recommendation system, the book eloquently states: “By enticing them to rate films, Netflix achieves the latest in business magic tricks, getting customers to serve themselves."
We are Smarter than Me is a valuable source of information on how to use crowdsourcing to increase the profitability of a business. I have but a few minor issues. One is the book’s coining of the term “C-We-O” (guess) which, although clever, makes me cringe just a little. Also, the authors’ viewpoint on the topic (crowdsourcing: love it!) is infectious, but the book only occasionally cites the potential pitfalls of crowdsourcing (mostly relegated to the “sidebar”). I could have used some more examples of mistakes to avoid in employing this method and further discussions of the drawbacks of such implementation. Is that just the cynic in me?
By and large, I absolutely enjoyed reading We are Smarter Than Me – it was clear, informative and easy to read (without oversimplifying its concepts). Even if you have never given a second thought to incorporating crowdsourcing into your way of doing business, after reading this book you might find yourself wondering how you too can unleash the power of crowds.