Leveraging the Creativity of Crowds to Find New Ways of Solving Problems Through Software

Software, the saying goes, is eating the world. Software systems of all kinds are finding their ways into ever more nooks and crannies of modern life, bringing inevitably closer the day when none will remain without them. That is not to say that the march of progress is entirely relentless in this respect, however. In fact, there are plenty of areas today where the question as to how to best leverage software to their advantage remains unresolved. Fortunately, researchers have some interesting ideas about ways of overcoming such blockages.

One of the most promising at the present time is the attempt to harness the power of crowds to produce innovative new answers that specialists and experts have overlooked. Crowd-sourcing has already proven its great worth in fields as diverse as fund-raising and the prediction of the future, but aiming crowds in more creative directions is a pursuit still in its infancy.

In fact, though, some promising results have already been produced by a few ambitious leaders in the field. Professor Henry Chesbrough of the University of California at Berkely, for example, has sketched the outlines of a crowd-sourcing approach that aims at producing novel new ideas for software systems. Elaborated upon and refined, Chesbrough’s work could be just what is needed to give software a boost into those areas that have yet to succumb to its power and allure.

Chesbrough’s most successful efforts so far focus on pulling ideas from a number of different online communities into a carefully designed filtration system. With their diverse sets of interests and backgrounds, these communities each are prone to coming up with ideas of a particular sort. Given the proper incentives, they can feed their creativity into a funnel where experts with technical background trawl through the flood for the best of them.

Over time, Chesbrough and others have shown, this approach can yield results that even the most dedicated of experts consistently failed to arrive at on their own. While crowds might not always be as wise as they are sometimes credited with being, it is becoming clear that they can be a lot more creative than they are usually taken for. Where software needs a little help with finding its way into more of the world’s processes and institutions, it might well be crowds that provide it in the future.