The crowd might have the solution you’ve been seeking

Posted on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 by Abby Draper

Crowdsourcing, or asking a large number of people for help usually via the internet, can sometimes solve some tough problems.

Speakers at this year’s American Society of Association Executives Annual Meeting & Exposition – held this week in Columbus – emphasized the impact of crowdsourcing and the importance of embracing the ideas and expertise of others. Colorful graphic with people standing in a crowd.

Musician, author and motivational speaker Brant Menswar told the story of his son, Theo, who contracted a rare blood cancer. He needed a bone marrow transplant to survive, but his body rejected the marrow, and doctors treated the reaction by suppressing his immune system. As a result, he contracted a deadly fungal infection. Theo then had two conditions that were killing him that required opposite treatments. The doctors told Menswar that Theo would not make it through the night.

Menswar called his brother and told him he had to say goodbye because he didn’t have time to fly in from California. Instead, his brother uploaded a video to YouTube asking people to help his nephew. Overnight, the video went viral and four of the best doctors in the world came together and developed a plan that saved his Theo's life.

This personal example showed how crowdsourcing could save lives.

Erica Dhawan, an expert on 21st century collaboration, explained how this type of collaboration can solve problems by reframing them. She explained how chemists at Colgate-Palmolive developed a new fluoride they wanted to mix with their toothpaste. However, the ingredients would not mix, causing millions of dollars of machine damage and production delays.

The chemists eventually decided to post about their problem on an online scientific forum. A physicist responded and told them it was not a chemistry problem but a physics problem; the toothpaste and the fluoride had opposite charges so they could not be combined. Once the charges were changed, the combination worked perfectly.

The chemists were so convinced it was a chemistry problem, they didn’t even ask the other scientists at Colgate for input. This problem could also have been solved by collaborating with other employees instead of crowdsourcing.

In both examples, a group of people exhausted their resources trying to solve problems, but other experts with more resources and different ideas were able to solve them.

The lesson: Don’t be too afraid or too proud to seek help. The answers might be out there: just ask the crowd.

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