My new manager recently asked me a question that at first glance seems fundamental, but is actually quite complex. What, really, is crowdsourcing? It feels like a buzzword. I thought about all of the different ways I've been positively influenced by learning from others. Really, my entire existence is croudsourced, and I am always looking for ways to add to the collective knowledgebase.
Crowdsourcing is the act of participating in a collective wisdom. Tapping into an external body of knowledge can improve your life in so many ways. I crowdsource many areas of my life, including my parenting. I am a member of an online forum of local moms run on Big Tent, where I get all sorts of information. I learn everything from parenting techniques, activities and places to visit, and new time management and work/life balance tips. I even buy and sell things in my community: baby clothes, a microwave, storage bins, you name it. Another, smaller group of parents and I organize a babysitting co-op on the same platform to save a lot of money watching each others' children at mutually convenient times.
This all may sound superficial, but in fact has had a huge influence on my life. Some of the amazing things I have learned from my moms' forum include:
- where to take my daughter for ballet lessons
- what is the best way to soothe a colicky baby
- which hospitals are best
- how to host a birthday at the playground
- what books should I read this year
- what are the best blogs (I found The Bloggess this way)
- what type of school might be best suited for my daughter
- how to schedule a large event (use Doodle)
I love how my moms' group comes together for tragedies, both citywide and nationwide. The moms have organized for change in the wake of the Newtown shooting, Boston Marathon, and firefighters' tragedies, and rallied around local moms who need some extra support due to personal illness or setbacks. I've seen so many moms deliver gift cards and meals to moms in need, sometimes complete strangers. It's truly heartwarming.
You can even crowdsource and coordinate meal delivery using Meal Train or Take Them a Meal, and crowdfund through Kickstarter or GoFundMe. Amazon has a new program Smile that allows you to fund causes like my daughter's school (The Boston Education Development Foundation Inc) while shopping at Amazon.
My contribution to crowdsourcing is sharing cool stuff that I've learned, like the free streaming media from Hoopla and OverDrive at the Boston Public Library, as well as how you can make make domestic or Canadian phone calls from your gmail account for free. I often share with new moms or those struggling to balance work with their family the amazing site Work Options*, where you can download professional telecommuting, maternity leave, and flextime templates that you can quickly customize to your specific situation.
Crowdsourcing can certainly been used in ways outside of your community, including gathering new ideas, looking for feedback, and getting suggestions to tailor an idea. If people share your values and vision, and they align with your objectives, you can use them to help amplify your message. You can use social media, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, about.me, and blogging to test that idea that you're floating around.
Just this evening, I was catching up with a good friend experiencing some worrying physical symptoms. I logged into my local moms' forum and entered some keywords, searching for a specialist. Within minutes I'd found an anonymous thread of another mom with similar symptoms, who had received advice and referrals for doctors. I shared the doctor contacts mentioned and the tips recommended by these moms with my friend. While it may not be the same issue, it will hopefully at least give her a frame of reference to research her symptoms. Reality check: Doctor Google does not know anything, so never crowdsource your medical treatment! It can be helpful, though, to ask around for medical referrals or hear from others with similar issues. When dealing with a health condition in college, I found a national foundation for the disease and was able to chat with others about the symptoms and how to manage them. It was such a huge comfort to be able to connect with people going through the same thing. I also found a similarly helpful forum when dealing with a relative's challenging condition.
I've learned that the more knowledge I gain, the less I find I really know. So I continue to crowdsource to find out how I can live my best life. I encourage you to try it, and tell me about your crowdsourcing experiences in the comments!
*Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Work Options.