The Missing Link in Crowdsourcing

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From a review of William Rosen’s ‘The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry and Invention’:

“The author dismisses the more traditional explanations about why the industrial revolution began in Britain—such as an abundance of coal or the insatiable demands of the Royal Navy—concluding, instead, that it was England’s development of the patent system that was the decisive factor. By aligning the incentives of private

individuals with those of society, it transformed invention from a hobby pursued by the idle rich into an opportunity for spectacular commercial gain open to anyone with a bit of skill and a good idea. That allowed England to harness the creative potential of its artisan classes in a way that no other country had managed before.”

It’s worth noting what makes the patent system tick. It is not primarily an outlet or a mechanism to unleash the creative potential of anyone and everyone, but instead a system that “aligns the incentives of private individuals with those of society.”

In my opinion, this is what’s missing in most crowdsourced advertising efforts until now. Instead of putting together a system which “aligns the incentives of private individuals with those of the brand,” advertisers are hoping that an upwelling of creative expression will pour out – if only an outlet is offered.

Any such alignment of incentives doesn’t necessarily have to imitate/recreate the patent system in a brand communication context. Indeed the incentives that individuals seek may differ for each brand and they aren’t always monetary.

Instead, merely considering what the incentives are for potential contributors at large and the particular brand in question and how to align them, will give any crowdsourcing effort a fighting chance to be working contraption rather than just a PR-worthy curiosity.

It’s an uphill task, but not an impossible one. Until the patent system came out, it’s not to hard to imagine ordinary workers in the 18th century “writing” their own version of the open letter that follows (via), urging society and capitalists to leave them alone – to their boring jobs and lives.

Well, many of them are busy inventing now.

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