Ch 4: Open Innovation: How Microtasking, Crowdfunding, and Cash-Prizes Can Take Us from the Flintstones to the Jetson’s

Crowdsourcing As a Shortcut to the Technological Singularity (Free E-book)

Let’s start with a short story:

How Open Innovation Got You Off The Cold Wet Ground

You go to the homeless-shelter after a day of panhandling on the side of an on-ramp. You just want a hot-shower and a safe place to sleep for the night….
Unfortunately, you’ve been homeless for months now, ever since you lost your line-cook job (to a robot), and your unemployment-benefits have run out.
Jobs are scarce, even in this big city. Your sister, who helped you out at first, can’t really help you out anymore now that her old room-mate has moved back in. You’re not proud of it, but you started a drinking habit to cope.
There’s no denying it. Things are pretty terrible right now.
Unfortunately, when you get there, the homeless-shelter is full. You aren’t the only one who lost his job to a bot, apparently. So, you go to a coffee-shop to stay warm, (until it closes, anyway), and you use the WiFi to surf the Internet on your smartphone (that you still use even though you can’t pay for service anymore, yay…sigh…).
You’re looking through a local-news website when you see this headline,
“Nonprofit Giving Out Shelters on Wheels to Area Homeless Tomorrow”.
You can’t believe it’s really true, but you bookmark the page; and, you plan to go see what this event is all about.
It’s the morning now. It’s not the first time you had to rought it like this, but you did it! You didn’t get much sleep on the park-bench, but you braved through another night on the streets. Congrats!
Now, you head to the place mentioned in the article. You get there when there is already a large crowd of homeless men and women (and reporters) waiting for the big-announcement.
You go up front, to the kiosks, and start filling-out a few forms. Minutes later, smiling volunteers wheel it up to you.
It’s your own little tiny shelter-on-wheels ( a kind of rickshaw-slash-tiny-RV) equipped with the basics (like a rudimentary composting-toilet, toiletries, an umbrella, dry foods, etc.) to help you weather-out life on the streets.
It’s no mansion, but after facing the harsh-reality of the street, you can see its value. You can’t believe it. They’re just giving this to you? And, you ask yourself… But, how?….

Then the presenter of the event steps up to the mic, and he explains…
“Thank you for being here today. Here, we have a great mix of volunteers, people who want a shelter-on-wheels, and others from the community. I am so glad you are all here. It means a lot to me and my crew.
Now, how did we get here? It’s a bit of a story…
This nonprofit saw a need in this city, a city that has failed to properly shelter its citizens. So instead of waiting for a solution from politicians, we came up with a practical, short-term plan to temporarily shelter our neighbors. That idea turned into what you see before you today, these small portable shelters.
We are giving away 50 today, and many more in the coming weeks and months .You may wonder how we,this tiny nonprofit, can just give these away…
Well, it’s because of the generosity not only of donors with deep-pockets, but also the volunteers from all around the world, the volunteers who performed millions of tasks on our website (like answering surveys identifying information and pictures and cleaning up messy data).
They are the ones that raised the money needed to design and build, these, super-inexpensive portable-shelters (each mini-shelter costs us only $70 each to make).
(The design of these portable shelters is the result of an epic open-innovation contests that really pushed a lot of engineers to their creative and thrifty potential.)
So, after a year of all this crazy fundraising and open-innovation contests, we are now happy to present them to the people who need them here today.”

………You are blown-away!
You had no idea a charity, and the strangers online that support them could ever do something so cool for you, so cool for humanity….
Despite your amazement, you’re actually kind of embarrassed, and you don’t want to get interviewed by the media present, so you get the-heck-out-of-there with your new shelter in tow.
Feeling on top of the world, you look for a convenient place to camp for the night with your new abode/contraption.
However, when you turn the corner, you see something that causes you to pause… an elderly fellow-homeless-man huddled in an alley, who looks like he’s having
a really bad day…You think to yourself for a moment….
‘Who needs this thing more?’ Then, you say to yourself, ‘darn it…’, and you know what you need to do.
You roll the shelter up to him, put on the brakes, and say… “Here you go. All yours.”, as you hand him the informational-brochure that was in it,… and before he can say anything, you just walk away.
Despite a sense of existential-dread still looming in your gut, for once in a long while, you’re happy…
You walk back across-town to reserve a spot in the shelter for the night (they have an opening this time), and then you go back to the coffee-house for a little bit.
You stay-up late sipping a coffee, spending time on your smartphone, volunteering, doing tiny-tasks (on the app the nonprofit-guy was talking about) to fund the making and distribution of more of these tiny-shelters for you and others in need.
You don’t know what’s next for you, but at least you can feel good for tonight. You’ll worry about tomorrow when it comes.

So We Saw in Ch 3 that We Can Task For $… Now What?

In the last chapter, we established that microtasking is an untapped resource that could raise money for crowdfunding-campaigns. Well, now, I want to bring attention to the fact that crowdfunding itself is an untapped resource when it comes to open-innovation….

What am I talking about? I’m talking about the fact that crowdsourcing-companies and people seem to be slow to realize that you can actually crowdfund open-innovation.

How to Do It

You see, once you have cash, you can hold a cash-contest, right? And, with a cash-contest you can create open-innovation, right?

Well, there you go…

So, let’s go through all the steps again:

  1. Microtasking = $
  2. $ = Crowdfunding
  3. Crowdfunding = Open-Innovation!



But, What is Open-Innovation Exactly?

An open-innovation contest’s goal is to reward a project that creates something of value, typically for a company.

These contests can be as simple as asking fans to create a new logo, or it can be as complex as asking all medical colleges in a country, for example, to compete to find a new cure for a disease, but, at the base of it, the concept is the same; you use cash to inspire people or team to innovate and create something new.

(For a more complete definition, please see an earlier chapter in this book: ‘The Appeal of Crowdsourcing’.)

What the Benevolent Side of Open-Innovation Looks Like

Big cash-prize contests are also held by various nonprofits and open-source organizations to create things that have value for people in general. These contests are for things related to:

  • solving diseases
  • fighting homelessness
  • finding crisis-solutions
  • fight poverty
  • create useful or fun free-software
  • etc.

So Why Don’t We, as a Crowd, Create Cash-Prize Contests to Bring Out Any Innovation We Want?

Good question…I’m glad I asked myself that while writing this chapter just now : /

If we can microtask to create $, and we can use crowdfunding to pool that $. Why can’t we microtask to raise $ for an open-innovation contest?

Just think of it!

We could raise money to create a contest to make the world’s most affordable bicycle, or we could hold a contest for a study to redesign all the signs in your neighborhood to reduce traffic-tickets, or maybe just designing a safer playground at your kid’s school would be nice, yes?

What About Building Utopia?

Making your neighborhood a better place to live through innovation, or designing something that makes many people around the world happy is one thing, and innovating toward a full-on utopia is another.

So, here’s how you make that leap…

A good start toward utopia would be to innovate open-source tools that allow individuals more self-sufficiency, (i.e., not be so dependent on an income from a job or from the services of others, etc.). In other words, innovations that would help people deal with the scarcity of resources they face in their everyday lives.

What Would that Look Like?

Here are some practical areas I see something like this happening:

  • Tinyhouses: Hold a contest to build the least-expensive tinyhouse on wheels. Free people from their crushingly-high rent and mortgages. (I’m actually working on building a contest like this myself, but I would welcome anyone to try at the same time. The more the merrier!)
  • Meal-Replacements: Hold a contest to create the world’s most convenient, cheap, nutritious meal in powder/drink form.
  • 3D Printing: Hold a contest to make the world’s most affordable, yet effective, 3-D printer that can actually print useful things.
  • Quantified-Self and Tricorders : Use $ to build an open-source diagnostic-tool with lots of sensors for medical diagnosis. (This is currently in the works, being done by a well-funded nonprofit, but there should be more contests of this nature.)
  • Virtual-Assistants: Our best virtual-assistants are coming from some of the largest for-profit companies. Why not have a good open-source assistant for things like saving money or other things that help people get out of poverty, fixing home appliances, applying for college financial aid, etc.
  • Basic-Income: We could help the basic-income movement ( Please search the internet for ‘basic income’ if you are not familiar with it) by funding lotteries for random people to have their basic-income taken care of for a year. (To tie two topics together, you could also raise $15K for a basic-income for an individual that wants to do open-source work.)
Open-source projects like these are needed today, so what are we waiting for?

Were you hoping for something a little more futuristic?

Well, it doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see that the same thing could apply to trans-humanist projects like body hacking, nano-robotics, science projects/research, or even AI projects with lofty goals.

I chose to focus on more practical ideas because I believe that people need the basics to combat scarcity before they can all join in the innovation-game full-swing.