You’ve probably heard of “crowdsourcing” – a way for organizations to solve tough challenges by tapping-into the knowledge of their broad communities.While social media and web technologies provide governments, businesses and other organizations with tools to crowdsource more rapidly and collaboratively, crowdsourcing itself isn’t new.
In a great blog, DesignCrowd researched some of the most well known examples of crowdsourcing. They think the first case could date all the way back to 1714 in England. And, of all the examples they describe, it’s this one – the invention of the Marine Pocket Clock – that I find the most interesting. Here’s the story.
1714: The Longitude Prize
In 1714, sailors in the British navy had a problem. The motion of a ship through the waves meant that traditional clocks with a pendulum couldn’t keep accurate time, which they needed to for navigation purposes. If they didn’t know where they were, captains and their unlucky crews could sail right into reefs or other dangers.
The Admiralty couldn’t find a solution so, in perhaps the first example of crowdsourcing, they issued a challenge to the public. For a prize of £20,000 (US $4.7 million in today’s money), everyday citizens were asked for their solutions to this tough problem.
And it worked! The winning response was received from a Mr. John Harrison, the son of a carpenter.
What does this tell us?
I really like this story because it shows some of the fundamental principles behind crowdsourcing:
- People outside an organization are willing to help solve a problem
- Organizations don’t have all the answers… sometimes they need to leverage the knowledge of people outside
- Even the most technical and seemingly impossible problems can be solved, and from the most unlikely sources
While the term “crowdsourcing” is new, the idea that organizations can look outside for help has a long and interesting history.
– Ellis Westwood –
Note: My thanks to DesignCrowd for the original blog that inspired this one.
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