Erica Dhawan is the CEO of Cotential and a keynote speaker driving innovation across generations and cultures to prepare the global workplace for tomorrow. Her new book is Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence by Erica Dhawan and Saj-nicole Joni.
Crowdsourcing generates lots of ideas, but the important question now, especially in the tech world, is how do we turn our crowd-generated ideas into business value? Any startup can benefit from innovative thinking and open-source tools, but a tech team can spend a lot of time collaborating or run a crowdsourcing campaign and get very little done.
The key is to know when and how to use these ideas, and be creative enough to combine the generated ideas to deliver value. This isn't crowdsourcing; this is connectional intelligence. In my new book Get Big Things Done co-authored by Saj-nicole Joni, we define connectional intelligence as the ability to combine knowledge, ambition and human capital, forging connections from around the world to create unprecedented value and meaning.
Simply put, using connectional intelligence is how to turn crowdsourced ideas into results.
Making Waves With Smart Phin
Take the world of ocean research. Wired recently featured a piece about Ben Thompson, a surfer who is also an engineer. He and his collaborators are developing Smart Phin, a sensor that attaches to a surfboard and collects important data--like salinity, acidity and water temperature--about the ocean. The measures can then be sent back to a smartphone and monitored by scientists, giving them valuable insight into how our oceans are changing over time.
Smartphin is a game-changing invention because traditionally, collecting data about the ocean is extremely difficult and expensive to undertake. As Paul Bunje, Senior Director of Oceans at the XPRIZE Foundation, explained to Wired, "'You put anything in the ocean, and it gets pounded to death, critters grow on them, the temperature changes, and ions corrode the metal.'"
Because of the potential of his invention, Ben Thompson and his team are one of 18 finalists for the $2M Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE, a competition to develop innovative sensors to measure the ocean's pH.
Thompson, even as he looks toward commercializing Smart Phin, wants to keep all of the data open source so that anyone can use it. In doing this, Thompson isn't just leveraging crowdsourcing and traditional partnerships, he is bridging two disparate communities: the surfing community and the research community. He's combining people together, so they're not just generating ideas but getting big things done.
Turning Texts Into Valuable Data
Connectional intelligence is about broadening the possibilities of how our data and resources can be used. Just as Thompson realized surfers could collect data useful to researchers, DoSomething.org is using anonymous data from their Crisis Text Line to fuel Crisis Trends, a platform of data to "empower journalists, researchers, and citizens to understand the crises American teens face so we can work together to prevent future crises from happening."
The seeds for Crisis Text Line started when DoSomething CEO Nancy Lublin noticed that teens weren't just reading the texts the organization sent, they were texting back--sometimes about the troubles in their own lives. Some messages were about sexual assault, bullying or other crisis, and Lublin realized that DoSomething was not equipped to handle the severity of the mental health issues. They partnered with six crisis centers across the country that offered expert counseling on the issues most troubling to adolescents and launched Crisis Text Line. In the first six months after its 2013 launch, Crisis Text Line exchanged nearly 1 million texts with 9,000 teenagers.
But Lublin also realized that they had an overwhelming amount of specific real-time data about teen mental health. So in August, they launched Crisis Trends, allowing us to answer questions we probably never thought imaginable, like, What time of day do most teens seek help about depression, or what's the #1 crisis for teens in my state? This data, when combined with communities--journalists, researchers and citizens-- can help to shape more holistic, structural responses to mental health crises and have support available when teens actually need it.
Use Connectional Intelligence to Drive Impact
By combining different resources and ideas, Ben Thompson and Nancy Lublin unleashed the potential for communities of all types to become part of the solution, which goes way beyond crowdsourcing ideas. Sometimes connectional intelligence is developing a new way for people to be useful like with Smartphin, and sometimes it's about recognizing a new opportunity that you take advantage of like Crisis Trends.
Any industry can benefit from this type of thinking--but using connectional intelligence, not just crowdsourcing, is critical to drive real impact. All you need is the ability to take a risk and think outside the norms of research and development in your field.