Friday, January 06, 2012

Bringing the Creative Economy Online

I am reading Reinventing Discovery by Michael Nielson. His thesis is that the internet is beginning to be used to change the way we do science. He uses Galaxy Zoo, Foldit, and eBird as exmples of where this is taking place in science, and Innocentive as an example of the commercial application of this idea. No doubt there is plenty of room for innovation in these areas.

Innocentive in particular is an attempt to monetize crowdsourcing. One can solve problems on one's own, or create a group -- and get paid if your solution is accepted. This isn't a bad way of going about things, but it seems to me that a more productive way of going about getting financially lucrative ideas would be to combine the approaches of Innocentive and things like Foldit. At Foldit, one can get help from others. Incremental changes suggested by others can be integrated, and thus solutions found. It seems to me that if one could figure out a way to pay people for their participation in solving creative problems that can lead to profitable products, that would both revolutionize work and greatly stimulate the economy.

I imagine for something like this to work, there would have to be some combination of hourly pay and bonus for being part of the successful solution. One could pay people per hour by having them log in and by tracking their activities during the time they are logged on. One could tell how much they are doing, more or less, and whether it has to do with the project, more or less. I would imagine that the pay at this level would necessarily be low. The real incentive would lie in contributing to the successful solution(s). With the way Innocentive is set up, you have the incentive to avoid anyone knowing what you are doing. But if everyone who makes a positive contribution to the successful solution gets part of the bonus (this could easily be determined by looking at percentages of contributions, the central importance of an idea, etc. -- one could even have group members vote on what they perceived to be the contributions of other members). I am sure a variety of solutions will be developed by a variety of companies, with the best one shaking out through competition, but this should get some creative juices flowing for anyone interested in developing such companies.

From the worker point of view, one could easily sign up for several companies, working for each, and perhaps make a decent living -- especially if you are part of a successful team or two. I certainly know I would love to have the opportunity to participate in several financially lucrative creative projects if I knew I would get paid for it, and faces the probability of at least some payment for my contributions. Humans are most creative when they are able to work both as individuals and in groups -- as individualistic social beings -- avoiding group-think collectivism. This approach would allow us to work both independently and together, to try out ideas, get them critiqued, and contribute using our own tacit knowledge, local knowledge, expertise, etc.

Further, it may make sense to allow people within a company to propose their own ideas and become team leaders for creating solutions. A regular idea worker could become a manager and then become a regular idea worker again once his project is finished. Under such conditions, the firm doing this would approach becoming a spontaneous order -- and would perhaps be able to harness the benefits of both spontaneous orders and organizations.

Companies are one day going to be doing just this sort of thing. It will be interesting to see how and in what ways it all works out. For an unemployed creative worker like myself, it cannot come soon enough.
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