Crowdsourcing for Thoughtleaders

We have all experienced the “big city, little town” effect. My phrase for the inner circles that develop where certain experts in any given issue become identified and therefore the go-to people for anything and everything related to that issue (even areas that are tangential at best to their actual expertise). They end up overcommitted while other voices never get the opportunity to participate. As someone who has been on both ends of this effect at various points in my career, I marvel at the way a relatively small group of people or companies can have an outsized influence on issues. They have become thought leaders. In the traditional world, thought leaders get sought out for speaking engagements, committee assignments, appointed positions in the community. They are featured in articles and honored at awards ceremonies. Companies spend whole retreats deciding how to become thought leaders in various market sectors. We all want to be thought leaders when we grow up. Now we can.

While thought leader is certainly high on my list of favorite buzzwords rapidly awaiting cliché status, I am even more enamored of the idea of crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is a wannabe thought leader’s dream, an actual thought leader’s chance to break new ground, and anyone else with a passion for an issue to get their two cents in. Crowdsourcing is the process of posing a question or problem openly and allowing responses from anyone and everyone. The best answer wins. In the digitally connected world, this is a nearly effortless process on the part of the “sourcer.” It’s almost stupid not to crowdsource, even if you also pursue more traditional ways of procuring work or developing a product.

This may sound roughly equivalent to what we as architects call the design competition. But crowdsourcing extends beyond the typical call for entries. As a much more loosely defined problem with much less rigid response format, it’s really all about the idea. More about collaboration than competition, respondents can see and comment on each other’s answers, building and evolving the idea. Also, because of the much more open platform, the generator of the request can also gauge what types of responses are most relevant to the audience they are trying to reach with the desired end product. This approach encourages blue sky thinking and true innovation and is beginning to influence the way that companies approach problems.

A great example of this is Kaiser Permanente’s interesting hybrid of the design competition based on the idea of crowdsourcing. While not interactive like typical crowdsourcing, it still employs a much more accessible platform and broader scope of awareness to encourage more response. Anyone can enter their Small Hospital, Big Idea challenge and they stress a much more comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach than just design: “We are appealing to the world's most talented minds to help design a revolutionary small hospital that can overcome the unique challenges of a small market (e.g., scarce resources and a shrinking pool of skilled clinical staff) and deliver exceptional, effective, and convenient care to our members. The hospital should have a near-zero impact on the environment.” Wow. That’s a lot to put out there, but with a crowdsourced approach, they just might get it.

Crowdsourcing allows a greater and much more diverse pool of thought leaders to emerge and eliminates the myopic approach of overburdening a few with the tasks of the many. It ushers in fresh thinking and challenges expectations. It open sources our access to expertise to form strategic partnerships. This is one buzzword that might just change the design industry. How will you use it to become a thought leader?


  1. Comments shared via LinkedIn's Healthcare Innovation by Design Discussion group:

    Haim Hirsch • You just did...
    I believe that posting such as yours are getting at the same idea. Sometimes it works even better as the posting usually goes to a focused audience of those knowledgeable or interested in the topic/industry. And sometimes it would be better to get feedback from a broadly diverse audience to get new ideas.

    I find that for highly specialized questions a focused group of experts or wannabe's yield valuable insights while (stating the obvious) that wouldn't necessarily work with, for example, a group of my friends who have no idea what I actually do.

    On the other hand, my friends would have great insights - across industries - regarding more generalized topics such as ROI projections or trends in technolgy, social media, etc.

    Angela Mazzi, ACHA, EDAC • Haim,
    Thanks for sharing your insights. I agree that you are more likely to get responses from a peer group, but perhaps out-of-the-box solutions or an expanded viewpoint from a broader audience. The beauty of crowdsourcing is that you get both and can filter through on your own. Have you been involved in any crowsourcing, either as a respondent or as a generator of a request?

    Karen Shakman | AIA | LEED AP • Angela, I am a fan of yours. I always learn with your postings and shared information. Thanks.

    Todd Warden, MD • Hi Angela,

    I think we as a business culture have come a long way in the last 25 years. I grew up in contract EM and I was taught by my leaders never shared anything with anyone, ever. This model created wealth but did little to improve the evolution of the practice of Emergency Medicine. Thought leaders then were the Zig Ziglars and others in business:

    "You can disagree without being disagreeable."
    --Zig Ziglar

    This overflowed into healthcare and the engaging and witty became our thought leaders and many came from the academic ranks. Unfortunately much of their thoughts moved us off track or instilled in us a belief that the challenges that we faced were not of our making but outside of us and therefore not our fault. Though that made us feel better, it did not help us take account or move to find effective solutions that we could drive.

    I like the open platform approach to sharing information and the concept of sharing ideas with many and allowing them to select out what resonates with them. As you suggest the intermingling of ideas that occurs with people that are close to the source of the fire will be more creative and effective than the more traditional thought leaders as I understood them.

    Angela Mazzi, ACHA, EDAC • Karen- thanks for your kind words. Todd, I agree- sometimes we long for the "holy grail" type expert who we can follow, believing that there is an answer or a formula that will magically solve our problems if only we can assimilate it. In our world of overlapping complexities, it's getting harder and harder to keep thinking that way. We need a broader base of knowledge, a willingness to listen and maybe just a few experts to synthesize it all into something coherent. Is anyone here thinking of entering the Kaiser Permanente challenge?

  2. Also see this link for more great thoughts on crowdsourcing:


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