Crowdsourcing – A New World of Work?

This weeks readings offer a broad variety of views on the topics of crowdsourcing and open sourcing.  Through the readings the authors attempted to not only answer the question of what these new phenomena are, but they also tried to place them in contexts outside the expected spaces of social media, and consider rather the opportunities for their mainstreaming.

As some of you might know, the research I have been focusing on for the last couple years involves the world of work, and the impact industry faces due to the transitioning workforce from predominantly Baby Boomers to the incoming droves of Millennials.  Some of what I have learned about the Millennial generation is a bit about their work habits and preferences.  While on the surface you may be asking “so what”, in reading the literature on crowdsourcing and reviewing the attributes of “work” that are finding success within crowdsourcing, it may be that crowdsourcing migrates from “fad supporting social media behavior”, to a possible norm as “a new world of work”.

As the articles point out, there are great benefits and efficiencies that can be derived from crowdsourcing:

  1. Collective intelligence (Surowiecki)- imperfect individual judgement, offset by the scale of many and the aggregation and review of a hundred sets of eyeballs.
  2. Commoditization of “simple”tasks (Kittur, Smus, Kraut)- decreased investment with increased speed and a portion of benefits associated with a diverse solution set, though that is debated due to limited web access related to socio-economic status (Surowiecki).
  3. Worker Flexibility (Oreg-Nov/Haythornthwaite) – Only work on what interests you and what you can make time for; no need for a long-term commitment or even a great deal of in-depth expertise.  Individual contributors not only welcome, but valued in an environment with low coordination requirements.

These are just a few of the crowdsourcing benefits that the various authors highlight, but as I compare those to the work desires of Millennials, many common threads arise;  to work collaboratively, but have an individual voice; to work flexible (and shorter) hours without the confines/trappings of a traditional work environment; to work on things “that matter”; to make work “fun”(Twenge 2006).

The article by Oreg/Nov (Oreg & Nov 2007) also shared with us why someone would be motivated to work for free (or nearly free) in crowdsourcing/opensource work.  Again, the idea of working on what matters (mostly for increased self-development) but also for increasing individual reputation topped the list.  In traditional industrial work environments you are paid for your work (well above crowdsourcing rates), that said – only rarely do you get to choose the projects you work on, determine the flexibility of your own work hours, or control the FUN in the FUNction of your role.  Perhaps crowdsourcing provides a “work re-invention” opportunity to not only endear the Millennial generation, but also increase the competitive positioning of U.S. firms?  Maybe if “novel, rare or coveted” work problems (Brabham, 2008 p.83) were carefully examined within the firm and crowdsourced (rather than outsourced) we could reinvigorate job prospects for our young domestic workforce?

If such a sea change in job development/placement was made not with industrial greed in mind, but rather the sustainability of U.S. jobs in mind, I wonder how this shift might be viewed?  Perhaps crowdsourcing as part of a new world of work offers a meaningful and flexible alternative for Millennials and a new option for our U.S. Industrial base.