Dec 222012

Crowd sourcing, through various social media sites as well as commercial sites such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, has become a common form of collectively gathering knowledge. Though forms of professional collaboration, commonly known as concurrent engineering or concurrent collaboration, have been around for years, an emerging trend for both public- and private-sector businesses deviates from that concept in that knowledge is shared across corporate and business unit barriers and into an individual’s personal/professional network and beyond.

Blogs and even message boards have been a basis for some of this activity; however more global efforts for specific problem solving approaches are taking place with amazing results. Consider Foldit.

Foldit is a website developed to attract individuals worldwide to play with puzzles. The collaborative group follows defined baseline rules of problem-solving to complete what appear to be puzzles. But the puzzles are actually protein models. By solving these puzzles — “folding” the protein molecules — individuals participate in developing differing structures for proteins. Knowing the structure of a protein is the key to understanding how it works and how to target it with drugs. Before Foldit, it would take scientists months and years to accomplish what can now be done in weeks. Pretty amazing results have already been found. Although the initiative is still in its early stages, it appears that humans’ pattern-recognition and puzzle-solving abilities make them more efficient at pattern-folding tasks than existing computer programs are. Here, computers and people are changing roles. New roles are being developed in the technology/human knowledge exchange.

Foldit is an example of WorkSourcing™. With WorkSourcing, work is sourced to people from all walks of life who want to participate in something they feel either has a high value purpose or is a game that challenges their creativity. This brings a broad spectrum of thinking to the problems under consideration. (To witness a phenomenal example of WorkSourcing for innovation, take 15 minutes to watch Eric Whitacre conduct a worldwide group of individuals who’ve collaborated via YouTube to create a chorus of 2000 people.)

The key underlying trend here is that rather than rotely using computers for standard business productivity applications, innovative organizations are viewing humans not just as users, but as partners with technology. Organizational innovation is at a new tipping point: using WorkSourcing as an effective productivity tool and a resource pool.

[Editor’s Note: This post is part of the annual “Cutter Predicts …” series.]


Mark Peterson

Mark Peterson is a Senior Consultant with Cutter Consortium’s Business Technology Strategies practice. Mark has extensive experience in business and IT strategy development, organizational redesign, portfolio management and IT value discipline integrations to client environments.


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