Harnessing the Wisdom of Your Crowd (from HuffPo)

This article is the first of a series of blog posts appearing in Huffington Post here

When analyzing innovation, we tend to glorify individuals’ contributions, both for convenience and to romanticize their story. Many of us therefore underestimate the extent to which the greatest human achievements have been attained through collaboration. Even the ‘lone geniuses’ of science collaborated with their peers and built upon the emerging ideas of the day. As Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Approximately a century after Newton, there was a sudden spike in creativity as the Industrial Revolution drove rapid urbanization and fostered collaboration. As diverse citizens came together, often in the infamous coffee houses of the day, they shared inspiration and developed ideas together.

As the challenges we all face become more complex, we will become increasingly reliant on collaboration between different communities to seek and implement solutions. This is daunting, but we’re fortunate that technology, when done right, can take the friction out of collaboration in an unprecedented way. Technology alleviates the need for collocation and makes it viable for us to combine snippets of human creativity and potential that historically would have gone to waste. This untapped human potential is similar to what Clay Shirky calls ‘Cognitive Surplus.’

After all, how often have you had or heard a great idea that went nowhere? Certainly more often than you can remember. We all have ideas all the time, from how to improve our streets, to thoughts on friends’ relationships, to what corporations should do. Ninety-nine-point-nice percent of these ideas go nowhere. Clearly not all these ideas are going to be brilliant, but 99.9 percent are not going to be useless either, and yet we simply write them off. They are never used. How much more impact might your ideas have if they were easily shared and built upon by others? How many more ideas might you have if you were inspired by others’ ideas? And how much more might you move from ideas to action with the encouragement of others?

Witnessing the need for increased collaboration to solve complex problems, the wealth of untapped human creativity and the ability for technology to take the friction out of harnessing it, we started to experiment with how the IDEO innovation process might be opened up to a truly diverse community. The fruit of this exploration was the launch of OpenIDEO.com in 2010 to solve challenges for social good.

Having recently reached the milestone of 50,000 users from over 160 countries, we thought we would share some of our learnings in a series of blog posts, framed as ‘Tips,’ that others might learn from, build upon or indeed openly disagree with! We’ll also occasionally share some of the inspiring examples of the platform’s impact.