Crowdsourcing and open innovation are without doubt hugely popular concepts. The philosophy is a simple one summed up best by Sun co-founder Bill Joy when he said that whoever you work for, there will be more smart people outside than inside your organisation. This basic reality has led organisations to employ open innovation to find all manner of solutions to pressing commercial and scientific challenges.
Such has been the popularity, not to mention the success, of open innovation that organisations have been tempted to push the boundaries and become almost entirely crowd operated. In other words, the various facets that go into running a business would be opened up to crowd participation.
The concept arguably reached its nadir in 2011 with two very different institutions. The National Trust launched MyFarm that year with the aim of getting people involved in the running of a farm. They asked people to pay £30 a year in order to have a say in the operation of a farm on the Wimpole Estate in Cambridge. They were able to vote on everything, from what crops to grow to what livestock to nourish.
After 18 months the project came to an end in 2012, with the National Trust declaring themselves content that the experiment had achieved its goal of raising awareness of rural life.
Arguably the inspiration for My Farm was a project launched a few years earlier called My Football Club, which aimed to once again apply the principles of crowdsourcing to running a football club. The concept saw the non-league side Ebbsfleet United bought by the crowd based consortium, with members then voting on issues ranging from team selection to which players to buy.
To begin with 32,000 fans signed up to own a slice of the club. However the popularity soon faded and within a year around 3,000 hardy souls remained. Of these, a dwindling number retained their interest in team affairs, with many votes attracting barely 100 participants. Despite this, the venture continues, with Ebbsfleet recently winning promotion back to the Conference division.
A new venture set to launch along similar lines is beverage based business Agora. The concept is still in a formative stage, but Agora director Allan Szymczyk told me this morning that they will shortly be turning to the crowd to help them produce a constitution for the business. Whilst My Football Club primarily attracted interest from football fans, Agora are hoping to tap into the management and innovation communities, with potential links made with business schools around the world.
Suffice to say, it’s very early in the life of this project, and the jury must remain out on whether a business can truly be crowdsourced, but it will certainly be an interesting experiment to follow. You can find out more via the video below.