Christian Cotichini and I are both big fans of being outdoors and interacting with nature whenever we can. However, I never thought we’d share a compelling discussion about the future of work while I was sequestered away in the Colorado mountains and he was cruising on a 42-foot sailboat from Toronto to Desolation Sound in British Columbia, Canada. In many ways, our conversation symbolizes how people communicate today, and how connectivity and digital technologies are driving sweeping changes throughout knowledge structures and the global economy.
Christian is a renowned international thought leader in crowdsourcing and the open economy. He has built and sold several companies in his career and spent nearly 20 years with the XPRIZE Foundation, a technology-focused nonprofit that hosts public competitions to benefit humanity. Today, he is channeling his experience, knowledge, and talents into being the co-founder, Executive Chairman & Chief Strategy Officer, of HeroX, a unique platform that enables organizations of every size to harness the power of the crowd to solve any challenge in every imaginable scenario. Very. Cool. Stuff.
The Organizational Innovation Paradox
Businesses in every industry – including their respective internal departments and teams – are simply not able to solve every challenge or problem that arises. This by no means indicates a lack of capability, intelligence, or passion in an organization’s operations or workforces. It’s just a basic reality in both life and business. Given the complex and connected nature of our modern world, the problems organizations face are more sophisticated, nuanced, and multi-faceted than ever. Think of climate change. Or racial injustice. Or AI and the future of information, work, or privacy issues. The world as we know it is changing dramatically at an accelerated rate. Businesses that fail to adapt to the speed of change will struggle in our new economic reality.
“By the time a problem trickles up to the executive office, you know the answer is not in the building,” Christian explained. “Because if the answer was in the building, assuming it’s a well-run company, the answer –or at least a proposal to address the problem – would have trickled up alongside it.” Christian’s term for this situation is the “Organizational Innovation Paradox,” which characterizes the inability to solve challenges with innovative solutions because leadership relies solely on the people whom they employ. This tunnel vision, however, is understandable. Companies invest heavily in vetting qualified employees, so seeking knowledge or expertise elsewhere seems counterintuitive. But the reality is not everyone in your organization has the solution to every challenge – but the massive talent pool outside of your organization probably does.
Empowering Passion to Drive Innovation
Knowledge work is a diverse and complex field that involves a vast spectrum of different types of talent groups and categories of skills and expertise. For HeroX, building trust in the concept of crowdsourcing and credentialing people and processes was key to building a successful platform. “There’s a classic kind of truism with startups,” Christian explained, “which is either be a mile wide and an inch deep or be an inch wide and a mile deep. You can either get vertical and specialize, or you have to be general – but it’s really hard to do both.” Many platforms focus on a specific type of discipline, task, or work such as coding AI, data, science, and creative work – which are important to the health of the crowdsourcing ecosystem. But HeroX provides a different service.
“Our job is to be a mile wide, inch deep,” said Christian, “and to help connect the solvers and the community with the challenges they want to work with. HeroX creates that network effect that is hard to create when you are doing a vertical community.“ Empowering a community that attracts the most skilled and innovative solvers is critical to providing value to organizations seeking solutions. In fact, 80% of problem solvers who participated in HeroX challenges were recruited off-platform, meaning they were not recruited by HeroX. It turns out that innovative problem solvers are typically driven by passion more than money or other job-related benefits. Smart people who are naturally inclined to “geek out” over a personal passion can provide cutting-edge solutions to challenges because they are only beholden to their imaginations and the results of their work. As Christian elaborated, “To think outside of the box, you need to go outside of the box.”
A New Era of Collaboration and Co-innovation
The concept of crowdsourcing has gained acceptance in the intellectual discourse about open talent and innovation; however, many businesses still struggle to overcome mistaken notions regarding how crowdsourcing works. Christian affirmed there remains a common misconception that crowdsourcing is a form of outsourcing – an idea that understandably makes teams and departments feel threatened and worried about losing resources. In truth, crowdsourcing is about collaboration and co-innovation, which is an additive process that melds talented people together in ways that empower companies and employees to focus on their core proficiencies. Co-innovation uses the full strength of the crowd for ideation, proof of concepts, and to quickly and inexpensively develop and experiment with innovations that are parallel and augment an organization’s in-house teams and departments.
HeroX customers know that crowdsourcing generates more opportunities for internal teams to be successful and create greater value because they can focus on commercializing innovation and serving their customers within familiar company lifecycles. “But the crazy ideas,” Christian elaborated, “the application of new technologies and responding to trends in the industry are things organizations really struggle with – but that crowds handle naturally. It’s their natural habitat in an open ecosystem.” As someone who personally knows and appreciates how Christian thinks, I couldn’t help but surmise that maybe our shared love for the outdoors somehow influences our passion for the big picture in life, for the things that are bigger than us as individuals, but that also need us because we are inextricably part of them. And that when we work together collectively, we can actually make that big picture into something that inspires and helps everyone.