Saturday, February 26, 2011

More On Crowdsourcing

I'm nearing the end of Jeff Howe's insightful, contemporary bestseller on Crowdsourcing and I found a very minor error. The book is quite excellent and a worthy read describing the power of collaboration. He applies is to business enterprises, telling story after story of how companies used an open-ended undefined group of people to solve problems and perform sometimes daunting tasks. (He does not apply the term to revolutions or the overthrowing of governments like we are currently witnessing on the global stage, but I'm guessing that book will soon be written by someone, too.)

In telling success stories about companies and people who used crowds to good effect, he talks about American Idol and the incredible run it has had due to its use of the crowds who participate in turning talented wanna-bes into superstars. And in a following anecdote Howe describes a company that is striving to use the masses to produce films outside the ironclad Hollywood system where a handful of studio heads decide what films will be made or panned.

In listening to the story of this latter company, it was clear to me that he was unaware of how this very act of crowdsourcing was instrumental in Walt Disney's early success. The details of that story can be found in David Ogilvy's 1978 autobiography.

Ogilvy, one of the most influential ad men in history and co-founder of the global agency Ogilvy & Mather, began his career as a Paris chef. In his mid-twenties he came to the States looking for a career change and managed to become part of the Gallup organization, a pioneer in the science of polling. Gallup and company were stationed out east but Ogilvy saw an opportunity for Gallup in the emerging world of Hollywood. What he did was use polling to help Disney determine in advance what kind of animated films would most likely succeed. Polling was, in essence, an early form of crowdsourcing.

By using feedback from the crowd, Disney was able to expend energy on projects with a higher probability of success. Ogilvy's Autobiography detailed a number of these projects which ultimately contributed to Disney's fame and fortunes. Later, when he reached New York and began his life in the advertising trade, Ogilvy continued to apply what he had learned about the value of the crowd.

In short, Howe is right about crowd sourcing. But he appears to have been unaware that this isn't the first time such a tool has been used in Hollywood.

Till next.... and have a good day.

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