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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Crowdsourcing May Not Be New, But it's the New Best Way to Get Your Work Done

In 2012, brewery Anheuser-Busch solicited the feedback of over 25,000 beer drinkers in developing a new beer. The idea was, rather than develop and launch a new product no one wants, why not just ask consumers what they would buy? The result was Black Crown—a beer with a higher alcohol content. It turns out that consumers want to get drunk faster for the same amount of money. Who knew?

Crowdsourcing, in short, is tapping into the collective intelligence of large groups of people for making business decisions. But it’s not just for large corporations.

Rather than toil away in secret producing work that may or may not hit the mark, you can use principles of crowdsourcing to make less effort for yourself while making clients and users happier.

Don’t think it’s possible? Here are some work activities that lend themselves well to crowdsourcing.

1. Proposals

Do you work for days or weeks on proposals that fail to get you what you want?

When I ran my first company, an internet marketing firm, I met with potential clients face-to-face and ended our meetings by promising to send over a proposal. I would then return to my office with a sense of dread and doom, because I knew I’d be hammering away at that proposal for hours. When I finally got the proposal done, the frisson of our meeting had faded.

There’s no virtue in making a beautiful document that doesn’t work.

So, instead of writing a proposal, consider this: Could you hold a face-to-face meeting in which you and the potential client write the proposal together? It’s hard for a client to say no to something she’s collaborated on.

2. Presentations

We all know how long presentations take to put together—and how often they fall flat. But one surefire way to keep your audience from getting bored is to get them involved.

Did your whole team work on something, and now you’re supposed to talk about it? Ask your team members to each talk about part of the project. Many will be flattered to get a bit of the spotlight, and you’ll look not only magnanimous, but also like a natural leader.

Could a presentation to a client instead become an interview of that client? If the client is expecting to be sold something, wouldn’t it be amazing if you spent most of your time listening to her concerns instead? Or if your client’s expecting a progress report, you could begin, “Of course we'd like to update you on our progress, but first we'd like to hear about how the process has been going for you, and if we need to adjust course a bit.” Like most people, clients usually enjoy being listened to more than they enjoy an hour-long PowerPoint deck. Just bring a list of questions so you look prepared.

Required to submit slides ahead of time, or have to hand out copies of your slides to the audience? Create a deck of 5-6 beautiful slides that simply say “Introductions,” “Defining Needs,” “Product Demo,” “Questions,” and then work your presentation—with audience participation—off that loose outline. Or, try putting questions on your slides with some blank lines below, and explain that everyone will be filling in answers as part of the presentation.

3. Sales

Selling or demonstrating a product? Do a reverse demo—that is, ask the interviewer to demo the product to you.

For instance, let the customer use your software on one laptop, while you open a document on another. If the customer sits in front of your software and says, “I have no idea what to do,” you write, “What do I do first?” Find out what the customer wants to do, and you or he writes down the steps under “What do I do first?” Show him the steps and ask if they make sense to him. If he wants to know how to import a Excel file, write “How do I import my data from Excel?” and write the steps beneath. At the end, your client or potential client will have his own personal instruction manual.

Who wouldn’t like that more than watching your canned speech? And how could a client not buy your product now that he has used it to do exactly what he wants to do?

Oh, and there’s no reason you couldn’t use this technique for non-software products. I’d rather slice a tomato myself than watch a knife salesperson do it.

4. Classes

Could a class you’re teaching become a workshop in which participants learn collaboratively? A great way to do this is to have individual members of the class learn and present on different parts of the material. They’ll actually end up learning more in the end, since explaining a concept to someone else is one of the best ways to learn it. (See Sharon Bowman’s The Ten-Minute Trainer for collaborative ideas for an adult classroom.)

At the end of the workshop, acknowledge those who got up to present. Initiate a round of applause for everyone. People will rave about this, and likely much more than they would have about listening to you talk for two hours.

5. Writing

I’ve written hundreds of articles, but one of my most popular productions was a worksheet I made to help people “design” their upcoming year. In a few days around New Year’s, I sold about 250 copies of a digital download that was mostly blank space.

Try it yourself: Instead of writing a blog post, could you release a poll, or create a contest that would generate reader submissions? Instead of writing a report, could you hold a focus group? Instead of writing a manual, could you ask users to submit their best tips and tricks?

It’s not always the case that people want to read your great ideas; sometimes, they want you to help them generate their own great ideas.

6. Physical Work

Of course, if you’re a carpenter, it’s a bit difficult to get your customers to make their own cabinets. Or is it?

The other farmers may have laughed at the first farmer who had the idea to charge people to pick their own fruit. But, in many parts of the country, going berry-picking is considered a cute date idea or a fun day with kids. A bar in my neighborhood offers a make-your-own-Bloody-Mary bar on brunch days. I’d be more likely to stop at a mall kiosk where I could customize my own earrings than I would be to stop and buy yet another bit of handcrafted jewelry. (And, speaking of malls, I hear Build-a-Bear is a popular store.)

Can you foist some physical work off on your clients or customers by offering a class, a customization option, or an “experience” they will enjoy?

According to Paul Ford, the fundamental question of the web is “Why wasn’t I consulted?” Doing all the work yourself isn’t inherently better. Involving others in producing your proposals, presentations, and products isn’t being lazy (even if that’s your ulterior motive)—it’s being inclusive, collaborative, and very likely more effective.

Photo of hands working together courtesy of Shutterstock.