The Future Of Crowdsourcing


CrowdsourcingI am a believer in the power of exploration. It is often in the seemingly random corners of life that we find opportunity, brilliance, and possibility. In an effort to open the door to possibility for myself, I spent some time with the producers and participants of Crowdsolve Seattle– a first-of-its-kind event bringing together law enforcement, a variety of experts, as well as several hundred “regular people” from around the world who share an interest in true crime and a passion to contribute in a meaningful way.

Designed and produced by the team at Red Seat Ventures,this event extends upon the team’s prior work producing CrimeCon, a variety of events throughout the year that attract flocks of true crime fans from around the globe. “CrowdSolve came mostly out of attendee feedback over our first three CrimeCon events. Fans told us they wanted to go much deeper into a single case file for the entire experience,” says Kevin Balfe, co-founder of Red Seat Ventures.

CrowdSolve uses a process known as crowdsourcing, an open collaboration process intended to help solve problems, has gained a great deal of popularity in the last decade. Application of crowdsourcing principles have been introduced to a wide variety of situations ranging from medical research, to navigation (think Waze), and even how you book travel accommodations through Airbnb. Crowdsourcing offers an opportunity to bring together large groups of diverse individuals to solve problems with the assumption that diverse groups bringing a variety of opinions and backgrounds can make higher quality decisions than a small group of “experts”.

Types of crowdsourcing.

There are a variety of specific methods that crowdsourcing processes can take including crowd creativity, crowd voting, crowd complementors, crowd contests and challenges, and crowd innovation to name a few. While many methods of utilizing crowdsourcing are focused on microtasks, or small, repetitive tasks such as interpreting handwriting or street signs, crowdsourcing presents a promising future in helping businesses think about solving some of their most complex problems.

What does it take for crowdsourcing processes to be most effective? 

When I think about my experience designing crowdsourcing processes for my clients who are working to solve some of their most complex business challenges, three fundamental things come to mind- the crowd, the tech, and the experts. The crowd is pretty self-explanatory. They provide the new perspectives. The experts can provide valuable insight to help guide the journey for the participants. Where I, and others, see interesting opportunities to support crowdsourcing efforts is in figuring out how technological advances may aid groups in scouring large amounts to data to find clues and patterns that people may miss.

During my recent visit to the Crowdsolve event in Seattle, I had an opportunity to meet up with Sukrit Venkatagiri, a computer science doctoral student at Virginia Tech’s Crowd Intelligence Lab. Sukrit and his colleagues were at the event trying to understand how technology can best be utilized to facilitate crowdsourcing efforts in ways that help speed up the work in ethical and effective ways. Through their research, the team at Virginia Tech supports law enforcement, journalists, and human rights investigators to better integrate technology into their crowdsourcing processes in order to help them drive results. Sukrit summed it up nicely, “The future will be about combining human thought and creativity with AI’s ability to see patterns in large sets of data.”

Tips for considering crowdsourcing for your business. 

Seems simple enough. Toss a bunch of people in a room and let them have a massive brainstorming session, right? Wrong. Ensuring that you have taken the time to design your process correctly will:

  1. Clearly define your goals before you start. Since crowdsourcing requires the participation of well, crowds, you must be very intentional about clarifying and putting boundaries around your goals before you get started. In addition, figure out what success looks like for everyone. This helps narrow in on a set of goals that meets the needs of all of the participants.
  2. Ask the right question. Many people underestimate this simple concept but the ability to ask the right question at the right time is a true art. Being extremely thoughtful about the question you are trying to answer with your group can make or break the success of your crowdsourcing process.
  3. Bake in safeguards to ensure ethical and productive work for all parties affected by the process. This is something that should always be considered regardless of topic but when bringing together a crowd to work sensitive challenges like those attempted by the participants of CrowdSolve (solving actual cold cases) it is absolutely imperative that safeguards are in place to protect people, evidence, and even the potential suspects. The leaking of case files, vigilantism, or inconsiderate behavior in front of the victim’s family members (who were present during the event that I observed) can all have significant negative effects and damage your ability to crowdsource in the future.

It is not lost on me that this type of process requires a lot of trust on the part of law enforcement to open up actual case files to participants. Therefore, guardrails must be in place to ensure that confidential information is not leaked to the public or that vigilantism does not become a reality.

When I asked about what it took for law enforcement to agree to open active case files to participants, Balfe added, “Trust does not come easily (nor should it) but I think we’ve proven to law enforcement, families, victims’ rights groups, and content creators that we do things the right way. I hope we’ve shown them [law enforcement], and other jurisdictions watching, that our sole interest is in hosting an event that brings together smart, passionate, and engaged attendees with world-class experts and [that this] has the potential to provide law enforcement with new directions, leads, and ideas.”

  1. Provide a clear process. A lack of a clear process and expectations to guide the crowd makes you run the risk of losing focus and getting off track. Ensuring that the experience is intentionally designed helps to ensure that you are as productive as possible.
  2. Ensure that experts are involved in the design and facilitation of the process. Having experts present to guide the crowd through the process helps keep people focused and productive and helps mitigate any risks associated with sensitive information. In addition to having experts supervising the design and facilitation of the process, identify subject matter experts to help provide valuable perspective that will help move the crowd forward.
  3. Provide data that supports the process but nothing more. One of the benefits of crowdsourcing is bringing diverse people together who aren’t experts to create new ideas to consider.In order to maximize the limited time that the crowd has to work together, provide them with the information that they need to be most effective.
  4. Provide feedback to participants. If people are going to give you their time, attention, and ideas you owe it to them to keep them looped into the outcomes of the process.
  5. Create a safe space where people feel comfortable sharing their ideas. There are many factors that may make participants feel uncomfortable opening up during your process- not being clear or transparent about how peoples’ input will be used, who will own the rights to the outcomes of the process, etc.  This is another reason it is critically important to be very intentional about the environment you create.
  6. Keep an open mind. Regardless of the process that you design, you never know what you might get from working with a crowd. Don’t discount ideas or input that you didn’t expect. One of the real benefits of this type of process is that bringing together a diverse group can lead to some really “out of the box” type solutions. Be open to letting the dialogue go where it goes. You never know what might come out of it.
  7. Check the governing law regarding intellectual property rights. One thing to be sure of before attempting any sort of crowdsourcing process for your business is to make sure that the laws pertaining to intellectual property rights are aligned with what you are hoping to get out of the process.

The business implications of crowdsourcing in the future of work. 

Many clients ask my opinion on the future of work and how technological advances such as artificial intelligence and machine learning may impact their people. This is not an easy question to answer. In my opinion, some jobs will become irrelevant, completely taken over by automation. Most jobs will continue to integrate technology in ways that make people more productive and where technology is capable of handling the more mundane and routine tasks, freeing people up to do what computers can’t. This would include freeing people up to do things that computers can’t like creativity.

In a world where the challenges we face become increasingly complex, finding methods of bringing together crowds, experts, and technology in ways that facilitate creative and beneficial solutions presents exciting opportunities where a great many “laypeople” can engage in activities that they enjoy while solving real-world challenges.

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The Art Of Unlearning What Works


As an organizational psychologist and a firm believer in continuous development, I have often found myself in the position of advising people on creative ways to keep learning throughout their careers. I have worked with clients seeking to become “learning organizations” – where individuals and teams are continuing to figure out what works through learning in order to outperform their competitors. Research, experiment, succeed, fail, learn, improve, repeat.

As someone who has dedicated his professional life to the topic of organizational culture, I realize that groups of people, over time and through collective experience, figure out what works and what doesn’t. Doing so allows them to begin to bake into their organization’s systems and processes methods for repeating successes and minimizing failures (or they cease to exist). Doing so allows members of these organizations to routinize processes and behaviors that lead to success so they can utilize their mental capacity on other things. Easy enough in theory. 

The real challenge presents itself when the old ways of doing things that once yielded success stop working (or stop working as well as they once did). It is during these times that I often get people reaching out to me to help them figure out what to do in order to right the ship before things go too far afoul. In all of these situations, some common realities have bubbled up that are important to acknowledge.

Reality #1: You don’t operate in a vacuum. 

If we all operated our businesses in an alternate reality where outside influences didn’t affect us we would simply need to figure out the most effective way of delivering our products or services, optimize those processes, and watch the billions roll in. Unfortunately, the world has a funny way of “rewarding” companies that operate without adapting to external changes in the market. Just ask those typewriter manufacturers. Or Kodak. Or any of the countless other companies that were leaders in their fields until the world evolved around them and they had their lunch eaten (technical term) by a competitor who evolved faster than they did.

Reality #2: Technology will force you to evolve faster than you may want to. 

No other external evolution has rocked the worlds of so many businesses as the advances in technology that we have seen in the last decades. To make matters worse (if you’re on the lagging side of things technologically speaking) is that the pace that technology continues to innovate and evolve is getting exponentially faster over time. 

This reality means that organizations that may have been comfortable having mastered life in a more static environment can now be quickly stymied or disrupted by competitors who are able to adapt more quickly or by a pesky startup that can nimbly adapt to changes to better meet customer needs and expectations. 

Reality #3: The networked nature of our economy means that incremental change is increasingly being replaced by exponential change. 

While this is largely due to the advances in technology discussed above, it warrants its own call-out here. Mark Bonchek suggests in his article in Harvard Business Review that, “Companies like Google, Uber, Airbnb, and Facebook focus on how to remove limits rather than set them. They look beyond controlling the pipe that delivers a product and instead builds platforms that enable others to create value.” It is precisely this approach that unleashes the possibility of massive change. 

Reality #4: Ignoring realities #1, #2, and #3 won’t make them go away. 

You can certainly take the “head in the sand” approach and argue that Realities #1 and #2 don’t apply to you or your industry for one reason or another. Your market share is significant or your balance sheet has never looked better. Famous last words.

Ignoring reality doesn’t inoculate you. You have spent years learning what works and your customers have rewarded you by doing business with you. Yeah, things are changing around you but your performance is still strong (for now). If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sound familiar? 

Reality #5: There is a way out for you and your teams. 

The good news is that there are ways to position yourself for future, long-term success in this fast-paced operating environment but it involves doing something that comes very unnaturally to us from an organizational culture perspective. We must learn to “unlearn”. 

Those organizations that are able to outperform their competitors will be those that are able to see an impending change in the environment and unlearn what works today in order to adapt quickly to what requirements the new operating environment will hold. 

And therein lies the real problem. We have forever focused on the importance of learning. What we’ve failed to master is the power to unlearn – our ability to take an honest look at our mental model and make the conscious decision to work outside of it. Destin Sanlin does a great job of demonstrating how difficult it can be in this TEDEd video. But how, exactly, do we master the art of unlearning in ways that drive long-term performance? Here are a few things to think about.

  1. Continually prove that what you believe to be true actually is. 
  2. Force yourself to ask, “Is there another way?” 
  3. Acknowledge that you may, in fact, not actually know what’s best.
  4. Challenge the beliefs and assumptions within your organization and be open to letting people challenge the beliefs and assumptions you, personally, hold to be true about what ‘right’ looks like.
  5. Give yourself time and space to master new ways of thinking and behaving.
  6. Ask a trusted third party to give you feedback on their observations of your mental model and how it shows up in your interactions with others. 

Those individuals and organizations that will excel in the dynamic markets of tomorrow will be those who are able to knock themselves out of the “rut” of success and challenge themselves to unlearn what has always worked for them in order to test their assumptions and beliefs. Only in doing this will they be able to identify areas where their “usual way of doing things” may threaten their future success.

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Focusing On Customer Experience Is No Longer Optional

Customer Experience

Ready or not, the customer experience (CX) game is on. No matter what size or industry you may play in, you are now competing based on the experience you provide to your customers. Government agencies, this applies to you as well. So, if you’re not thinking that customer experience is something that you need to be concerning yourself with, you may be digging your organization into a hole that you may not be able to climb out of.

Why has CX become such a fundamental component of brand success?

While certain brands that have understood the power of the customer experience for many years and have continued to refine their CX delivery in new and profitable ways, the notion that all organizations need to consider the experience that they provide to their customers as a competitive driver has really only become something of note over the last decade. One primary reason for this is due to the great leaps and continuous improvements that these CX leaders make to their customer experiences which continue to raise customer expectations.

Brands like Amazon, Apple, and even Uber Eats have provided customers with the ability to engage in experiences that are designed around their specific needs and wants- and they like it. As expectations around experiences evolve those brands that are unable to deliver will undoubtedly lose the affection of their customers. This reality creates the need for organizations in all sectors and industries and of all sizes to ask themselves what they are doing to both understand what their customers want and need and what steps are they taking to be able to evolve their experiences to deliver on those expectations.

The experience that a customer has with your brand, positive or negative, can have a significant impact on your organization. Several years ago, I wrote a column about my experience at Walt Disney World- a trip that I was not looking forward to. To my great surprise, the experience that Disney created at every touchpoint that I had with their brand completely won me over. Since this experience and my reflection on it, I find myself continuously taking mental notes of the way in which my experiences with other brands live up to my expectations (or fail to do so).

A study published in 2018 by Forrester Research compared the stock prices of a sample of CX leaders and laggards to the S&P 500 and found that leaders significantly outperformed both laggards as well as the S&P. The message is clear, those organizations that are better positioned to meet and exceed the experience expectations of their customers in a consistent and repeatable way and those that are best able to adapt to the changing needs of their customers are those who will continue to outperform the competition.

The performance benefits of improving CX make it hard to ignore. From increasing customer engagement, trust, and likeliness to forgive a brand for making a mistake, to improving voluntary compliance to requests, CX has been shown to make the delivery of services more cost-effective. Oftentimes, in fact, the savings gained by improving CX delivery can make the financial arguments against the investment moot. Many organizations that embark on improving their CX delivery find that the effort becomes, in effect, a “self-funding” activity where the savings they see from improving CX delivery outweigh the investments to improve.

Who is your customer?

For many, day-to-day contact with end-user customers is rare. If this is the case for you, it doesn’t mean that CX is not important. Support, or back office, personnel may find themselves serving multiple customers though they may be internal customers. The same principles that serve organizations well when enhancing the end-user customer experience can be applied internally to your internal customers to help facilitate your interactions.

I asked David Hicks, CEO of CX advisory firm TribeCX to weigh in on what differences may exist between improving CX delivery for end-user customer versus internal customers. “There really aren’t significant differences, CX is a way of thinking. Seeking out, what is it that I do in my job that really makes a difference for colleagues/customers and then being fanatical about persistently and consistently improving on it and delivering it can benefit customers regardless of who they may be,” Hicks suggests.

CX in government agencies.

Recent research by McKinsey & Company shows clearly that government agencies, particularly those in the federal government, are lagging behind when it comes to the level of customer experience that they provide. Government organizations have their own, sometimes unique, challenges that make delivering high levels of consistent CX a challenge without a doubt. Many subject matter experts are retiring, draining critical institutional knowledge. Legislative and regulatory rules can make collecting data from customer difficult. Agencies may collect a great deal of data but a lack of integration of legacy systems can make drawing insight from this data a real nightmare. In addition, the role of CXO seems to still be something akin to seeing a unicorn in the public sector indicating that CX has not been at the forefront of managers.

What the most successful organizations do.

McKinsey’s (2018) research on the topic found that the most successful organizations do three things exceptionally well and consistently:

  1. They put themselves in the shoes of their customers. Really, truly taking a hard look at the brand experience through the lens of the customer can be tough but opening the curtain to understand the realities that exist is critical to understanding the opportunities that exist.
  2. They understand their end-to-end customer journeys.
  3. Isolate the moments that disproportionately shape the experience.

Where do you start?

Understanding that you have an opportunity to take a long, hard look at your current customer experience and committing to improve that experience over time is a good first step. David Hicks suggests that leaders begin by, “… buddying up with a front-of-house colleague for an entire day and to listen carefully to them and to the customers with whom they interact. Ask them what the single most important thing is to focus on first. This sends a powerful explicit and implicit message to your staff.”

Regardless of your sector or industry, customer experience is a factor of organizational life that is here to stay. Those that are best able to adapt to meet the changing needs of their customers and that are able to continuously increase the ease of interacting with their brand at key touchpoints are those who will enjoy a substantial and sustained differentiator over their competitors. As customer continue to get comfortable with their newfound new-found power to choose when and how they interact with brands, those that are unable or unwilling to make the effort to truly understand what their customers want and need run the very real risk of becoming irrelevant.

This article originally appeared on

Your Company Culture And The Uniqueness Paradox

Organizational Stories

Advising senior leaders on the topic of organizational culture for the last fifteen plus years has provided me with a multitude of opportunities to examine the ways in which groups of people organize themselves to accomplish their work and to achieve their mission. There are a wide variety of methods that I use when helping clients to understand the cultures of their organizations. One of these methods is engaging members of a client organization in order to listen to and attempt to make meaning of the stories that are told.

Stories have served a critical purpose in organizing groups of people for thousands of years. Stories are engaging ways to educate members of a group about what is valued by the group. What the group expects from its members. What gets rewarded and what gets people punished. Stories spark different areas of our brains than other forms of communication and this is why they have, and continue to be, utilized to share important ideas amongst and across groups of people.

Stories, due to their unique contextual factors, tend to reinforce the belief that each is a special, one-of-a-kind thing. Stories are not the only organizational phenomenon that foster the belief that organizations and their cultures are unique and special snowflakes but, in reality, organizational cultures and the stories that are shared within them share many commonalities in terms of structure, delivery, and ultimate purpose. This is what researchers Martin, Feldman, Hatch, & Sitkin refer to as the uniqueness paradox.

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Why Your Kid Needs A Side Hustle

Kids side hustle

This year, my son gave me the best gift an entrepreneur could ever ask for. Of course, my second grader, like nearly every other eight-year-old in America, has mastered the ability to influence others to get what he wants. With summer kicking off in full swing, these talents typically revolve around spending an inordinate amount of mental capacity figuring out how to get more screen time. Last week, rather than vying to get a few extra minutes of screen time or finding creative ways to get out of practicing his guitar, my son convinced his friend that they should start a business.

After some cajoling, his friend agreed and they went through the process of deciding what type of business they should embark on. A short while later, the boys settled on a car cleaning business (interiors only mind you). After dedicating their attention to touting the virtues of such a business and the benefit that it would bring to the local community, the boys turned their attention to creating posters and fliers that they attached both to their wagon as well as the community mailboxes in our neighborhood.

Loading up their wagon with their (read my) supplies: a shop vac, dash cleaner, leather cleaner, Windex, paper towels, and rags and were ready for business. They quickly realized that not only did they need something to keep their millions in as they moved from house to house but that they needed a pricing structure. Without missing a beat, they immediately dove in and made it happen.

In order to make sure they had their act together, they asked if my wife and I would be willing to let them practice on our cars, something we promptly agreed to. And then it happened. Something in my son sparked. While I intentionally minded my own business, all the while keeping a rather close eye on them as they worked, I could see a sense of pride swell up in the boys. They were doing something for other people. They were taking great pride in ownership and they were making sure we were satisfied with their work. As they worked, they chatted and their conversations were both surprising and inspiring.

After a short while, our cars were clean and the boys added their first revenues to their kitty, a mason jar with a handwritten sign on it sitting haphazardly in their wagon. With beaming smiles, they began their trek from house to house, knocking on doors and pitching their potential customers. With the confidence only an eight-year-old can have, they let rejection slide off their backs with ease, they took future appointments (which they noted on a small pad), and they moved on to the next house- each stop an opportunity to perfect their pitch.

We’re now a few days into their business and they are still going strong. They have made a surprising amount of money and with summer vacation rapidly approaching, they are already strategizing how to expand their operation into other neighborhoods as well as hiring and training new employees in order to expand.

Why am I telling you this?

It is not uncommon for young children to start a business. Lemonade stand. Mowing lawns. Manicures. (Yes, manicures). It almost seems like a right of passage for many kids in America. I recall multiple businesses that I myself ran as a child with fond memories. All of them, opportunities to develop skills and practice new behaviors that I could take with me the rest of my life.

Why Many Culture Efforts Struggle To Drive Sustainable Change

Culture, Climate and sustainable change

There I was, sitting in the office of a senior executive who was struggling to come to terms with the reality that their organizational change effort, though having somewhat significant success initially, was not sustaining. People were quickly slipping back to old behaviors and engagement measures were sliding back to where they were when the change process started.

As I learned more about the “culture” change efforts that this organization had engaged in over the last year and a half, it became clear to me where it went sideways. This leader is not alone in succumbing to this common misconception about what culture is and isn’t and I felt that it was time to take a moment to clarify a few things for the rest of my readers who may be feeling similar frustrations.

The concept of organizational culture has become widely accepted as a critical component of performance in recent years. With this, I find that a great many of my discussions with leaders, often, teeter between several topics that fall within the realm of culture but are not one and the same. This reality can create some understandable confusion and frustration for people.

One common situation that I find myself running into are conversations with business leaders who are attempting to evolve the cultures of their organization but who, in reality, are focusing on organizational climate. Many business leaders tend to utilize the terms organizational culture and organizational climate interchangeably, and while they share many similarities, there are several key differences that delineate them from one other.

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gothamCulture’s Chris Cancialosi Discusses Adaptive Companies Through The Lens Of Organizational Culture

The SHRM 2019 Spring People + Strategy Journal has been published and in the Perspectives Department, Anna Tavis presents “The Adaptability Challenge.” Martin Reeves, Director of BCG’s think tank, BCG Henderson Institute, is the lead author on this topic writing about “What Makes an Adaptive Company?” Chris Cancialosi, Founder and Partner at gothamCulture, provided one of the counterpoints to the focal article with “Expanding the Lens to Organizational Culture.” To read the article and all of the counterpoints click here.

The Pros And Cons Of Internal Company Podcasts

Internal company podcasts

Rarely a day goes by that I don’t find myself in a conversation with a client, potential client, or team member about the challenges they face with actively engaging their employees. The topic of employee engagement is certainly not new but the tactics associated with engaging employees continues to evolve. This evolution is spurred on by a variety of factors, including technological innovation, and people’s ability to repurpose existing methods in the employee engagement arena.

Take, for example, the prominent use of video conferencing applications in the workplace. Technological advances in both video and in internet bandwidth have created an opportunity for many businesses to capitalize on remote work options for employees that would have never been possible just mere years ago.

Another such reinvention of a popular communication vehicle in today’s society is the use of podcasts by corporations as a way to engage their employees. Take, for example, the wildly popular Trader Joe’s podcast. Originally intended to be a limited, five episode, release, the popularity of the effort evolved into an ongoing phenomenon that customers love as well.

Podcasts may be all the rage, but they might not be the silver bullet your organization is looking for to engage your employees. In an effort to dive a bit deeper into the topic, I spoke with two experts to understand their opinions on when and why an internal, corporate podcast may be the right solution for you.

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How Blending Brand And Culture Can Impact The Customer Experience

Customer experience

Customer experience is a memory. An impression that can stick in the mind for a minute or a lifetime. A positive experience can result in lasting loyalty, endorsement, and evangelism. A poor experience, on the other hand, can almost instantly mean the end of a brand relationship.

PwC reports that 79% of customers rate customer experience as the most important component of the purchasing decision after product quality and price. According to this research, 59% of consumers who love a brand are prepared to forsake it after having a series of poor experiences. The firm also claims that 17% will walk away after only one bad experience. Needless to say, this is concerning for any business.

In order to create amazing customer experiences, companies need to ensure that they have the appropriate bedrock in place to enable brand and culture to be successfully integrated. In this article, we will discuss the three primary foundations – purpose, promise, and values.

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Working With Difficult People

Working With Difficult People Podcast

In every organization, there will be people that you find to be “difficult”. The question is how to navigate these people in a productive way and that doesn’t cause excess stress for you or your team. What can you do? What you do say? What do you ignore? gothamCulture’s Chris Cancialosi discusses this topic with Wanda Wallace on VoiceAmerica Business Channel. Click here to listen!