Outsourcing was the Bogeyman of the 90s. Protectionists portrayed it as an evil that would take American jobs away. Yes, some jobs did go offshore as people feared, but it made the global economic pie grow bigger. Whether you agree or disagree, and regardless of whether you love outsourcing or hate it, much more lies ahead.
The nature of work is itself changing—it is democratizing. Outsourcing is being superseded by crowdsourcing—which is enabling anyone to take a job anywhere. Having people all across the world collaborate in this way will not only disrupt industries, but will also change societies.
Call centers have long been doing the job of sales, marketing, and customer support for corporations. Receptions are staffed, and factories and data centers are commonly monitored by people on the other side of the globe. Tasks such as data handling, website development, design and transcription are also being done by workers in diverse locations through websites such as oDesk, Freelancer and Elance.
Now, work is becoming micro-work. Jobs are being broken into small tasks and farmed out to websites such as Amazon Mechanical Turk, Samasource and CrowdFlower. Crowdsourcing is enabling many people to not only work together to perform these tasks, but also to share ideas.
I too have taken advantage of outsourcing and crowdsourcing in my research and writing.
After researching Silicon Valley’s competitive strengths, I noted something really odd: that there were practically no women at the helm of technology companies; on their boards; or on the senior technical staff. Something was seriously wrong—there seemed to be a bias against the most creative half of our population.
So I started a project at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford Law School to research this. I wanted to survey hundreds of women to learn about their experiences—to understand what the root cause of this imbalance was. I hired a researcher, Neesha Bapat, to lead this project. She was based in Washington D.C.
We needed to students to help us survey and interview women across the globe. Neesha recruited from Washington DC, Stanford, and New York City. The work was to be done over the Internet and by phone, so the team could be anywhere.
And then I decided to write a book to document what I had learned and to prescribe remedies for fixing the gender gap. I needed to gather anecdotes, answer many new questions, and present fresh ideas.
Writing a book is usually a full-time job that takes years. I didn’t have years. So I decided to crowdsource content for the book.
To gain the funding to hire people to help me manage the process—and to determine if there really was interest in this project—I decided to presell the book. I decided to crowdfund it on a website called Indiegogo.
My students at Stanford built a website for the book and created marketing materials for our Indiegogo campaign. But they didn’t have the skills to create a professional video. I was able to find a company in Estonia, Blood and Treasure, that produced this video over a weekend for a very low cost. Within 30 days, we raised $96,000—far more than the goal of $40,000 (all of the proceeds from the book will be used to support women entrepreneurs).
I then recruited a leading journalist, Farai Chideya, to help me write the book. She is based in New York.
To find women to crowdcreate the book, I sent a message to my private mailing list asking for “ambassadors” who would reach out to their social networks. Three hundred women went on Facebook and Twitter to ask their woman entrepreneur friends if they had stories to tell and ideas to share. Within two weeks, more than 500 women all over the world signed up to do this.
We used a website created by a Silicon Valley startup, Grouptie, to enable these women to exchange ideas and create the content we needed. Within six weeks, we had gathered enough information to write several books. Our crowd spent thousands of hours on this project. They also learned from each other and made new friends.
All of this would have been unimaginable even ten years ago. This is the new era we have moved into—where we can harness the brainpower of humanity to help us solve small problems as well as big. Distance, location and borders are no longer barriers. We will soon be crowdsourcing solutions to world problems.