This is the future: Marcus Shingles provides a Masterclass in Crowdsourcing

If you’ve never been exposed to Crowdsourcing, here’s a treat. Marcus Shingles, one of the presenters at this week’s Singularity University conference in Johannesburg, is among the most knowledgeable worldwide in this rapidly expanding area. In our short video (above) Marcus shares his top four Crowdsourcing platforms. And in the audio interview below, gives us a Masterclass in the subject of Crowdsourcing. If you’re in business, it will open a new window . If you’re thinking of going into your own business, it is likely to provide the push all budding entrepreneurs need. – Alec Hogg 

Marcus Shingles from Deloitte Consulting is with us. You’re actually partly responsible for Singularity University coming to South Africa…..

Well, this originated with one of the Barclays executives, Eugene Booysen, Head of Innovation, attending a program that we have that Deloitte. Singularity University and the X Prize Foundation do together. It’s called the Innovation Partnership Program, and the original, inaugural event, which the Barclays exec attended – which was almost two years ago – was a program out at the NASA Campus and Singularity University, in the heart of Silicon Valley. With about 120 Fortune 500 executives, it was the dialogue around exponential thinking and exponential technologies over the course of three to four days with some of the leading start-ups in the world, some of the leading innovators in the world. I have to give credit to Barclays because what they did was they said, “I want to take this type of learning experience and this type of awareness and education, and knowledge. And I want to bring it back to my Continent. And I want to not only have it for my organisation, but to have all of my stakeholders, my clients, come to a session, so I can share this knowledge with them as well.” This is the first company we’ve done this with that actually brought in their own clients as attendees of an event like this.

How many of these events have there been around the world?

There are different models. Singularity University does a series of conferences throughout the year. They have Exponential Finance happening next week in New York City, for example, very much tailored to financial services. In October, I think this is the fifth year running, they’ll have Exponential Medicine, three to four days, all life science, healthcare, hospitals, doctors, the medical industry, geneticist etcetera. All focus is on exponentials but in fields of life science and healthcare and medicine. They’re doing an Exponential Manufacturing one within the next 12 months and with Deloitte we’ve talked to them about doing a Future of Government, so they have these vertical positioning of these topics. Then they also do Regional Summits. They’ve just done one in Seville, Spain, for example. Deloitte is a partner or collaborator with them in all of these activities and all of these events, but they’re doing a very good job of getting the awareness and getting the message out, and getting their knowledge out. So kind of the ‘water level rises’ for everybody in the process.

And you’ve personally been involved with Singularity University for a while?

I have. I’m a partner at Deloitte. I started a few years ago, but before I came to Deloitte, I was actually intermingling in this community. I know Peter Diamandis. He and I connected and it was a discussion around, you know your focus on educating and building awareness around these exponentials. Deloitte has talent resources. We’re the largest management technology-consulting firm in the world. Why don’t we help? As you educate, why don’t we help execute on these topics? That’s kind of where that match was made and, yes, I brokered that relationship and that model, so that we could enter the market together. We’re really, happy to do it because X Prize is a non-profit and they’re part of the Innovation Partnership Program, and Singularity University is a benefits corporation, and we’re really happy with their causes. A lot of the programs we do, like the Innovation Partnership Program, the funds that companies pay to be a member goes 100 percent to SU, to X Prize, so they can focus and fund their grand challenge, social impact goals.

You gave a presentation today on Crowdsourcing. Now it’s something that in South Africa we are a little bit behind the curve. Could you explain what it is?

For Crowdsourcing I actually use the example with my daughter, who just graduated from college. That I think she’s probably the first class of students coming out of university, in the year 2015 that actually is starting to hit this pivot point. Rather than the traditional route of going and interviewing with a company, taking a career job in a firm that’s all-inclusive, a career path, she’s legitimately exploring this new concept of crowdsourcing or crowdfunding where, A) she has the option of being part of a crowd community, basically a freelancer and being part of the crowd, and participating in a variety of ways to get on the ‘B’ part of the ‘on demand’ workforce. Also, she could go and team with some of her other classmates and put together some crowdfunding projects. That she puts on some crowdfunding sites, in order to get funding, to do what she wants to do rather than working for a traditional company. There was a good article in the Economist Magazine in January. It was the cover story. They did a great job talking about this. That the nature of what a firm is is going to change over the next decade because everybody is now walking around with a super computer in their pocket. Now that we have cloud computing connecting people, but connecting people in a way that leverages vast amounts of computing powers. It can be more than just sending text messages. We can actually interact with each other in heavy transactional ways, using that computing power.

Now, the fact that social, the fact that all of us are much more comfortable reaching out and interacting with other people, it just builds this conducive nature for the ‘on demand’ economy. Meaning everyone with a super computer in their pocket is now a viable candidate for being pulled into the labour force, for just that period of time that they’re needed, as a freelancer, so you see crowd-sourcing sites popping up. That if you need an attorney or if you need a technical developer, or if you need a data scientist, or if you need healthcare or a doctor. You’re finding all these crowd sourcing sites popping up, which essentially gives everybody that’s connected, through their super computers in their pockets (their phones and Smartphones). The ability to tap into the crowd of everybody else who has a skill set that you might need at any given time.

In the United States, in the late 1700s, 90 percent of people were self-employed. With the Industrial Revolution that all changed. Do you think it could go back to 90 percent of us actually working for ourselves?

Well, I just looked up some current stats and the stats were that in the U.S., 38 percent of the workforce is freelancing, because they’re starting to get into this crowd model, also if you look at the amount of investment, Venture Capitalist Investment, Angel Investment, etcetera. That are into start-ups that are launching crowd source models, and one big reason for this is Millennials.

Millennials expect flexibility in their work schedule. They like to work not in an office environment. They like to work off hours, at night, not necessarily 09:00 to 17:00. They like to work in cafes, at home. They expect that flexibility. They don’t mind not having a job that they launch in a career with one company for the next ten, 20, 30 years. Their notion of agility and adaptability in their work and in the variety, that’s all cultural, so it’s like this perfect storm.

You’ve got mobile, social, cloud computing, which is the technical conjugal infrastructure, enabling crowd or on demand work forces, and you have this cultural thing. Where these Millennials, in particular, are just coming out of university today with just a different notion of work is, so I think we’re headed down the path where…

Yeah, you know, the other notion you’ve got to consider is the democratisation technology is spurring this entrepreneur renaissance, you know. Free printer allows anybody to be a maker, right, so you have this ‘maker movement’, so as more technology gets democratised, you have people that can be self-sufficient and be their own boss, and create their own work force, and be part of their own crowd, in terms of the way they go and do work.

An entrepreneur listening to this will get quite excited because it means having to employ less people full-time and, secondly that you can find the best people in the world to work for you, perhaps at a lower rate than you would be paying for the guy down the road.

Yes, well one thing that’s interesting about crowd sourcing. That if you kind of look into it closer it’s this notion that, first of all, the smartest people in the world don’t work for your company, that’s a quote from Astro Teller that I like to use. We’ve had Astro Teller from Google X, come out to the Innovation Partnership Program, and I think it’s a very intuitive point that he makes.

Is that the smartest people in the world don’t work for your company. Does everybody agree with that? Yes, everybody agrees with that. They work somewhere in the crowd, so if you think about it, and another quote from Astro is, “You’re putting yourself in a smartness contest with everybody else in the world. You’re not going to win.”

Where do you find them? How do you find them?

Well, you have to incentivise them, so the good crowd sourcing models go on that premise that ‘the smartest people in the world don’t work for you’, so how do I find them, and you, basically get the needle in the haystack come to you. That’s where you find incentive-based competition, combined with crowd sourcing, as a model that works effectively, so you give some incentive, some competition to get them to come to you.

Now sometimes that incentive can be monetary incentive, right, where they get paid. Uber is a good example of that. The crowd is everybody out and the public has got a car, who wants to use that car to pick someone up, and they get paid for it but there are other models where it doesn’t require monetary incentive, to get the crowd to participate.

You can use gamification. There’s some examples where researchers, or a researcher in the U.K., had to review some cancer cells, and he didn’t have the budget to, actually have the researchers actually look at every, single cancer cell through these microfilms (or what have you), or digital film so they tried to gameify it. They tried to make it into a game to, actually get gamers to come in, so you had to shoot the cells, and so forth. They just gameified the whole thing and that actually worked. They were able to get what would normally take months and months of effort to pull off. They were able to do it through gamification and they were able to do it for free, because they had the crowd participate into that.

Marcus, where do you start though, for both, let’s start with the freelancers. If you would like to, you’re in a low exchange rate economy, like South Africa. You think that your skills are good enough to be viable elsewhere in the world. How do you even get into the game?

Sure, well what I told my daughter to do was, I said, “Do a Google search on environmental science crowd sourcing.” Sure enough, dozens of sites came up. Some were competitions that she could participate in. Some were just a buyer looking for a seller. Someone who had that skill and someone out there trying to crowd source that skill.

So it’s that simple but…

Well, the maturity is just happening now, so in certain fields, for example of you’re a good analytical thinker, and you’re good with numbers and you’re kind of this status scientist profile. There’s sites like Kaggle that it doesn’t matter where you are on the planet, you can go and compete on that site, in the Kaggle competitions, because that’s a crowd source, data scientist competition.

If you’re a very creative person, you can go and compete on Tongal. Tongal is making creative content, like commercials and it’s so effective. They’re actually doing it for some of the biggest brands in the world, producing Super Bowl commercials. Through a crowd-source model, rather than going to a traditional agency.

And if you’re a company, that wants to try and access some of the talent but you can’t afford to put up $10.000.00 as a prize?

Well, you know, the advantage is a lot of the crowd sourcing sites, you put the prize money out there, and you only pay if someone accomplishes the goal, so it kind of really underwrites the whole risk of the model. Kaggle is that way. You have a data scientist competition. You get hundreds of thousands of this community of data scientists. By the way, these data scientists are like, you know, employers of regular companies by day, but like to go home and do Kaggle competitions by night. It’s kind of their spare time thing, most of the competitors. But they’re on these sites and you are competing for this competition, but you, as a company, you only pay if someone actually achieves the objective hereafter.

So how do you sort the wheat from the chaff? It sounds to me like you could get inundated or you could get nobody participating.

Yeah, so there’s… You know, each model, it’s kind of like the Darwinian Evolution that’s happening right now, with crowd sourcing sites, because they’re all trying to figure out what is the way to become sticky, which is how do I get people to participate in the crowd, but then want to stay engaged with the crowd, right. Some of those models are turning out to be very effective, and it’s a more conducive model.

The Tongal example is a good example because that model of harnessing the crowd of creative people, to produce video content or commercial content for you, is almost more superior than a model of using an advertising agency, a traditional advertising agency. Why, once again, just like the smartest people in the world don’t work for your company. Nor do the most creative people in the world work for your company. They work somewhere else, so the goal is to harness the crowd.

One of the things that I think is really important to think about is, we all participate in crowd sourcing anytime you use Uber and Airbnb; those are all crowd-sourcing models. The thing that makes them very distinctive is I called it the ‘trifecta for disruption’.

If you look at some of these huge evaluations lately, around Airbnb, Uber and others, it’s this model of, not only crowd sourcing, but it starts with excess capacity. So where is our excess capacity? That car that you use only one hour out of 24 hours or the spare bedroom in your house that you don’t use ever anymore, or the parking spot that you leave in the morning, and you come back at night, but it’s prime real estate for parking. All excess capacity.

What you see start-ups doing entrepreneurs are all focused on this excess capacity notion, which is where is our excess capacity? It might be extra clothing in your closet that you don’t use, right, or just dirt that you pull out of a landfill – excess capacity, and how can you use the sharing economy? That’s the number two of the trifecta. The sharing economy, the fact that the people are more willing to share that excess capacity and then crowd sourcing comes in to just to connect the buyer and seller together.

So that trifecta of excess capacity, (the spare bedroom in your house), put into a sharing economy model, the Airbnb model for example, and crowd sourcing is basically, the user interface platform that brings those groups together. That’s a pretty powerful combination, and if you start to think about where’s the excess capacity that exists that I could capitalise on, as a start-up or entrepreneur?

The other thing that you have to realise is that if you’re a large company, where is your consumers, where’s your product, your consumers excess capacity? Right, so I’ll say that again. I’m a manufacturer. I make something or I sell something. My risk is where is that product or service that I offer to a ‘my consumer’. Then become ‘my consumer’s excess capacity because someone will figure out a way to share that excess capacity and use crowd sourcing, which means they’re recycling my product among each other, which means I’m out of that mix.

So one day your motor vehicle or all these motor vehicles that you are producing with such massive excess capacity because they sit there for a long time. Their whole market has to contract.

Yes, exactly that’s what will happen. I like to say, you know, we say, “Disrupt yourself before you’re disruptive.” You know, it’s the notion of Uber yourself before you’re Kodak’d, right. It’s like there’s some, you know figure out that Uber model, which is really an excess capacity, sharing economy, crowd-sourcing trifecta. Figure out where that exists and do that to yourself before it happens to you.

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