Enter the crowd

Letting go of control and reaching out the crowd: it is one of the greatest challenges that companies must face in this digital era. For companies that succeed, unprecedented opportunities will arise.

Since the beginning of industrialisation the control over production and organisation and access to scarce raw materials has been the core purpose and function of companies. The careful practice of control over everything that has to do with the company’s method of production seem to be of highest importance for managers nowadays. Question is, will this kind of managerial position still be justifiable in the future? The digital era demands an application of new techniques in businesses, less control and more space for chaos, creativity, unpredictability and self-organisation to blossom into something totally spontaneous, innovative and unexpected. It is strict policy that companies let go of control and enhance the essence of their positions, their job titles and responsibilities.

Having given this, there are different trends that companies can reflect upon and use for their own organisations. Four important ones are: the rise of the Do-It-Yourself trend and open sourcing, the increasing importance of communities and building relationships, the need for transparency and the rise of the crowd funding.

1. The rise of Do-It-Yourself and open source

The prices of electronics and gadgets during the past decades have fallen thanks to to incessant innovations in the IT-industry. This made it easier for people to pursue their hobbies or professions: they were able to purchase the camera’s they had always wanted to take pictures with and to buy (semi-)professional equipment to make music by themselves or produce films and video’s. The innovations in the IT-industry also led to an enormous production of free content, available for all sorts of tastes. Moving on to the software industry, Linux is another brand that has had a massive impact. A sound community can indeed manufacture software, which many consider to be superior to that of companies such as Microsoft and Oracle in terms of reliability and stability.

Moreover, we can witness this trend revolutionise physical production – just think of the 3D-printer. Technologies in other fields, like the proficiency to analyse DNA, or micro printing various different materials, are also becoming more and more accessible to almost everyone and versatile to the changes occurring. This can lead to huge developments in i.e. the food industry. To be more detailed, it could for instance be the achievement of printing food out of raw materials or the cultivation of small-scaled self-designed plants. Especially because of the rapid exchange of designs, ideas and self-conceived strategic formulae that is taking place nowadays, communities can compete with big corporations. The consumer himself knows what he wants, where to get it and how to get it in the event of the desired product’s non-existence. After all, ‘the best producer is the actual user’.

2. The increasing importance of communities and building relationships

Next to the production and trade taking place via the world wide web, there is another exceptional development that needs noticing: it has become a more sociable world. This social processes are characterized by methods and dynamics that are quite different from the rational models and figures that have always dominated the free market. A deep sense of involvement within social networks will be a pre-requisite in the coming years, and even in the coming generations. This network will serve as a filter through which numerous choices and options can be screened and thereafter selected. Companies that make themselves an aloof and exclusive establishment, never minding the state of their relationship with the crowd and possessing an unclear identity will have to bend over backwards in the future. They may end as producers of bulk goods without much added value.

3. The call for more transparency

A decade ago, NGOs opened the eyes of the consumers regarding unhealthy, and sometimes harmful, products and manufacturers. Today, with the presence of the internet, consumers themselves become the leading actors and actresses playing a vital role in this area. Blogs emerge from everywhere discussing the make-up of a particular food, its nutrients, its point of origin, and how it was processed. Mass production has finally acknowledged its limitations. Think of the bio industry. Think of the suicide rates at manufacturing company Foxconn (a supplier of companies such as Apple and Hewlett Packard). Or think of the sweat shops where sneakers and soccer balls are being made by under-aged girls and boys. If consumers can produce their own goods, they will have a better grasp on how products are being made, what it is made up of and which kinds of harmful effects the act of production has had.

4. The rise of crowdfunding

The biggest advantage that industrial conglomerates have is that they are always able to organise finances and funding. With these funds, they can start-up production processes, conduct research and introduce new products to the market. But even this kind of monopoly will be affected with the arrival and domination of the internet, which facilitates crowd funding. The main idea behind crowd funding is that if people place little amounts of donations, a bountiful budget will materialise. One prominent example is that of Barack Obama’s campaign for presidency: a lot of American citizens donated small amounts of money that eventually lead to a huge budget that financed the whole of his campaign. Rumour has it that it was the largest campaign budget ever in the history of presidential campaigns. Through these minuscule amounts of cash, even other segments of the industry can be shouldered. In addition, innovation processes become more and more of a networking system: small-scale sub projects combine forces in order to gather and bring about a larger sum of money. This clearly implies that innovation is not only in the hands of super companies.

Companies should consider the crowd as a valuable business partner or relation that possesses in itself a particular skill and work dynamic. This crowd is not a resource (crowd sourcing, brain juicing, milking the mass etc.) ready for dispersal. The crowd is an equal partner (co-creators) of a company, a team player that has his own wishes and preferences.

What most companies can learn from the crowd is that new developments need room for chaos, unpredictability and self-organisation. Companies must learn to let go! This ‘control’ is suffocating, particularly for those creative, knowledgeable and service-oriented employees who want to improve themselves and reach the top. It is necessary for companies to have a real close to this matter; not merely through hidden cameras, but by showing interest in its employees. Go ask the crowd to tell their stories and if needed, discuss them.

Companies also have something to offer. Crowds often lack self-knowledge. They dont have the structure necessary to squeeze good results from a decent number of individuals or from large groups. Companies do – and they can empower the crowd. The well acclaimed ‘wisdom of the crowd’ does not come naturally and effortlessly, but rather demands an ingenious set of ‘actors’, experts, active and passive contributions and a system of moderation, judgement and selection.

Crowds can support companies and companies can support crowds. Companies should start building relations and learn how to keep them. This will open the door for more creativity and dynamism and real innovations.

This article was published by future magzine SecondSight