The Global Crowd: Innovation’s Butterfly Effect

Filed Under Innovation

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Arwen Heredia

August 6, 2014

There’s a common belief around the world that even the most insignificant actions we take can have monumental, widespread impact. It’s the reason every story about time travel centers around staying hidden, unknown, and unobtrusive — even something as seemingly inconsequential as killing a mosquito can change the course of history.

This phenomena is known, of course, as the Butterfly Effect, and its core principle — that minute, localized changes within complex systems can have large effects elsewhere — can be quite justly applied when considering the various innovation processes that take place in different organizations and industries.

The Idea Effect

An idea is typically spawned by one of three things: a reaction to an existing need; preparation for possible eventualities; or an assessment of existing solutions that finds things to be lacking in some way. That makes ideation a pretty difficult thing to force, and nearly impossible to predict. And, because ideation is so closely tied to innovation, this presents a big problem for anyone trying to mechanize the process.

Yet, sophisticated software and algorithms aside, that is, conceptually, not entirely true. Just because a fix for something doesn’t exist yet does not mean it won’t be clear when it needs to exist. Of course, solutions don’t usually just spontaneously appear in the same moment a problem is unearthed; things come to mind, sure, but a multitude of factors have to be considered before the issue at hand can actually be dealt with. By limiting the number of brains that are able to mull over a situation — which is common in hierarchal organizations that depend on small groups of people to come up with innovative answers — you’re restricting not only the potential of your ‘crowd’ to come up with answers at all, but the possibility of those answers being the best solutions for the problem. Understanding that is one of the first keys to using the Idea Effect — innovation’s version of the Butterfly Effect — to your advantage.

Applying the domino concept to ideas is twofold. On one hand, ideation inspires collaboration. In a work setting, when you make a decision or have an idea, the appropriate first step is to vet it with any relevant stakeholders, who can offer suggestions, help identify challenges and risks, and provide insight into available resources. In so doing, the proposal is likely to evolve, grow, or be thwarted, usually because of information you didn’t remember, know, or consider. Additionally, the historical relevance is clear: there would be no car without the invention of the wheel, no iPod without the Victrola, no space travel without the discovery of oxygen-hydrogen combustion, no libraries without the printing press. The ideas that led to these discoveries quite literally changed the course of history.

This naturally collaborative approach to ideation and project development is not only logical, but creative and full of obvious benefits. And if a team of four, for example, can help positively reshape great ideas and help move them along towards effective implementation, the same is true for a crowd of hundreds, thousands, and even millions.

Understanding the Global Crowd

In truth, the global crowd — literally, the population of individuals around the world that have the potential to help shape and execute different ideas in disparate locations — is not structured all that differently from your department team, or your overall organization. There are movers and shakers, creatives and strategists, leaders, executers, investigators, data junkies, naysayers, and everything in between. But, this vast pool of contributors, coupled with the aforementioned Idea Effect, means that the possibilities for a single idea to completely transform a local business or even a global industry are virtually limitless. Granted, there are myriad variables and steps; context and conditions play a major role, as do financial resources and market acceptance. Still, the exceptional advantages of a fully scalable innovation program — not least of which is the opportunity to effect real, lasting change — should be motivation enough to work towards building out processes that can capture and harness an entire crowd’s genius, whatever the size.

This month, we’re going to focus on what it means to embrace the global innovation ripple and utilize it for your business. Through the influence of global crowdsourcing and the organic reach of the Idea Effect, we truly believe that any organization with a mind to do so has the power to change the world — one team, company, and industry at a time.