Once upon a time, if you had an unusual problem, and had exhausted all the obvious resources, like your clever Uncle Joe or your neighbor down the street, you had to call in an expert. That took time to find one, and money to pay him when you did. The idea that you could simply ask the greatest minds in the world what they thought was space age fantasy beyond the imagination of even Buck Rogers.
Today, the technology is almost there. Wikipedia defines Crowdsourcing the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call. With today’s technology, an open call can be made to a breathtaking number of people will little effort. And as practitioners become more sophisticated, the “crowd” can be a focused group of experts or people who, based on their profiles, would be most likely be able to come up attractive solutions to any given problem.
Innocentive is a company that was founded in 2001 around the idea of pooling the greatest minds in the world into a collective resource that could then be marshaled to address whatever problems might be presented. They host an Open Innovation Marketplace in which Seekers (who are often Fortune 500 companies) post a challenge and offer a reward to the Solver who can most satisfactorily solve it. If you browse the Marketplace you might find things like: Sustainable Packaging Materials for the Developing World, Fast Film Forming Coating, Dissolved CO2 Detection, Image-File Manipulation & Reformatting Software, or a Simple Microgravity Laundry System and many, many more. These are all challenges that have been submitted by Seekers, with a reward attached, some as high as $50,000.
The company was recently in the news because they offered a challenge based on the Gulf Oil spill. Close to a thousand solutions were submitted from their network, of over 200,000 innovators, many of whom have advanced degrees in science and engineering. Some of these are described in the following video.
When Innocentive launched their challenge on April 30th, they saw the greatest response they had ever seen despite the fact that they were offering no cash award. “This is first challenge we’ve issued with no cash inducement,” CEO Dwayne Spradlin told FastCompany.com. “But in a crisis situation we thought our network would get involved because it was the right thing to do.”
And they did.
Over 1,000 solutions came in through email, phone calls and even FedEx packages.
When Spradlin first approached BP, they told him a couple of areas they could use some help with: remote sensing of oil and better skimming technology. Spradlin passed this info along and the community responded
But from that point on, the company has been silent. Apparently the “Not Invented Here” syndrome that is rampant in so many companies, rules the roost at BP as well. This is truly a shame considering the magnitude of this crisis and the fact that BP seems to have exhausted it’s own supply of ideas. And now that the LMRP cap has failed the outpouring of oil is worse now than it was at the beginning.
Five thousand feet below the sea, the company is clearly in over its head.
An old friend of mine used to say, “when you are at the bottom of the hole, it’s time to stop digging.”
Asking for help at this point would be a good idea. But it seems as if BP is fresh out of those.
RP Siegel is the co-author of Vapor Trails.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.