Even before the term was coined in Wired Magazine in 2006, crowdsourcing was utilized as a way to accomplish goals. The strategy had been used for several hundred years before it was officially given a name, but since being named, crowdsourcing has grown into a huge field, spawning subdivisions of the strategy and being used for a multitude of purposes. Wikipedia is one of the most recognizable and mainstream instances of crowdsourcing, designed to elicit and compile knowledge from the masses. Crowdsourcing has been used in real time to track public transportation and traffic updates with various apps.

One of the most significant challenges to product development is money, solved by one of the most prevalent examples of utilizing the people: crowdfunding efforts. Sometimes small companies or individuals have big ideas that they couldn’t follow through with on their own. But they also know there’s a wealth of people out there in the world who are looking for the exact product that they’re hoping to put out there, and that those people would be willing to help fund that project in order to see it happen. This has been true of entertainment (like with The Veronica Mars movie), it has been true of education (like with the recent Reading Rainbow campaign), it has been true for artistic endeavors. When it comes to something like game development within crowdfunding campaigns, donors often have a larger hand than just as investors—they are sometimes solicited for beta testing before final board games are printed or digital games get a final render.

The crowd has also been infinitely helpful in first stages of development on a number of products, specifically with recommending new ideas.

Another challenge that organizations face is how to better the products that they already have. They might think, “We really love this particular product, and we think it’s great, we don’t want to start from scratch. BUT we do think it could be even better. How do we figure out what that looks like?” Gone are the days when that answer would have to come from within your organization. And thank goodness, because the people who are currently using the existing product are going to be the best equipped to give you suggestions for how to make it better! Plus, not only does this help improve the product itself, it also increases brand awareness and shows your customers and guests that you really care about their opinion and the quality of product that they are experiencing. Win-win.

While something like crowdfunding campaigns generally start with an internal idea that is funded and further developed publicly, the crowd has also been infinitely helpful in first stages of development on a number of products, specifically with recommending new ideas. Have you ever gotten to the eighth draft of something and you’ve made changes and updated it and looked at it so many times that you can’t focus on it any longer, and you don’t spot the typos or grammar mistakes that have slipped in along with other small changes? That’s why fresh eyes are amazingly helpful in situations like that one, and similarly for product development as well. For example, LEGO recently announced a campaign in which fans can submit designs to be voted upon, and those which reach 10,000 or more votes are moved into production (barring legal flaws or other critical issues)! This has allowed LEGO staff members, who have probably looked at LEGOs every which way and tried to imagine all possible permutations of the same blocks, the ability to present a fresh slate upon which other creatives can build beautiful new designs.

Regardless of how you are using it, crowdsourcing ideation has been remarkably useful in solving the challenges present with development of products. Studies show that 85% of the 2014 Best Global Brands have used crowdsourcing in the last ten years, so that’s a good indicator of its usefulness. Download IdeaScale’s recent white paper to find out more about the ways that crowdsourcing is being used by companies and organizations in product development.

By Rob Hoehn

About the author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.