Tag Archives: Crowdsourcing

The Pitfalls of Crowdsourcing

How to Overcome Them to Spur Innovation

The Pitfalls of Crowdsourcing: How to Overcome Them to Spur Innovation

GUEST POST from Diana Porumboiu

There is a lot of buzz around open collaboration as a driver for innovation. Studies, academia, research, and the myriad of examples from companies are boasting about the amazing results brought by ideas from external parties. A study shows that 85% of the top global brands have used crowdsourcing during the last decade.

But is crowdsourcing truly effective to spur innovation? Even though its popularity increased so much, there’s also plenty of evidence that dispute its effectiveness.

As tempting as it is to fall into the trap of the latest trends in innovation methods, it’s not wise to jump headfirst. So, we decided to write this article and show you the hard facts of crowdsourcing, which will help you decide if this is something your organization can benefit from.

For this, we’ll explain the pitfalls of crowdsourcing and provide practical tips on how to overcome them. To put things in perspective, let’s start with the broader picture, of what crowdsourcing is, or isn’t. 

What is crowdsourcing?

As the word indicates, crowdsourcing is all about leveraging the power of the crowds. If you’ve been reading our blog, or worked with innovation topics before, you might think that we are actually referring to open innovation. Not quite. Indeed, the two terms are oftentimes used interchangeably, and the concepts are similar.

But it’s best to make the difference between the two, because setting on the right terminology will also help you better communicate your innovation initiatives to your organization, and to external stakeholders too.

Basically, both crowdsourcing and open innovation refer to engaging external individuals to participate in the innovation process by suggesting ideas and solutions to a specific topic.

Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining ideas, solutions, or services from a large, sometimes undefined group of people through an open call. It is a process that leverages the collective intelligence and creativity of a crowd to solve problems, generate new ideas, or carry out tasks.

On the other hand, open innovation includes many other activities that involve people outside the initial working group (open data, scouting, trend research, idea management, etc.). If you want to learn more about the topic, our blog provides vast resources on open innovation which you can find here.

Now, while open innovation, as the name states, is specifically done to generate more innovation, crowdsourcing is used in other contexts too. Methods like crowd labor, crowdfunding, or crowd curation can be valuable if you need to outsource routine and well-defined tasks, manual work or fund your project. These can, in fact, be part of an innovation strategy, but they are not specifically targeting innovation.

That’s where crowdsourcing for innovation comes into play, and what we’ll focus on next.

The pitfalls of crowdsourcing

While crowdsourcing can be an effective way to generate ideas, solve problems, and engage with a community, unless it is properly planned, executed, and managed, it can come up short.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these pitfalls. 

  • Risk management: 

There are many risks that come with open collaboration, and some of the most cited are intellectual property and data privacy. Organizations are apprehensive about exposing themselves to the large public and weary about potential conflicts that could arise from ownership, and copyright as well as exposure to competitors.

So, when considering crowdsourcing as part of your innovation strategy, you should weigh the risks associated with it.

There are four main things to keep in mind when it comes to legal risks associated with crowdsourcing:

  • Existing patents and patents protection for technical solutions
    • Trademarks applicable when sourcing new product names, logos or brands
  • Design of the visual appearance of new products
  • Copyrights for any original texts

That’s why it’s best to have clearly pre-defined contractual terms, NDAs and confidentiality agreements that deal with intellectual property ownership and data protection. So, make sure to establish clear ownership and copyright guidelines upfront.

This can include requiring contributors to agree to terms and conditions that grant the sponsoring organization the right to use and modify the contributions. Providing clear attribution and recognition for contributors can also help to avoid disputes over ownership. Rewarding participation doesn’t just help with motivation and engagement, but it can also mitigate the legal risks.

  • Crowd management: 

The success of your crowdsourcing initiative hinges on the participation of individuals who provide ideas. However, many crowdsourcing projects fall short due to low engagement levels, inadequate idea generation, or low quality.

These issues may arise because contributors don’t recognize the significance of their contributions, lack motivation, misunderstand project requirements, or are unaware of the initiative.

Because crowdsourcing initiatives require a lot of time, effort and specific skills it’s best to delegate the project to someone who is not involved in everyday innovation activities (if you have those already in place).

Even so, crowdsourcing should still be aligned with the overall innovation and strategic goals, and therefore managed as part of existing processes. 

To ensure crowdsourcing runs smoothly, contributors are engaged, decide on the roles and responsibilities for managing the process and ensure that there is adequate support for contributors.

Also, to reach the right people, and as many as possible, you should design effective campaigns that encourage participation.

To ensure quality control establish clear guidelines and criteria for contributions. This can include specific requirements for content, format, and presentation, as well as screening and review processes to filter out low-quality or irrelevant contributions.

Using a platform that allows for peer-review or voting can also help to separate the wheat from the chaff. This what can also facilitate evaluation, which we’ll explore next in more detail.

  • Idea evaluation: 

Evaluating ideas is one of the most complex and challenging aspects of idea management, particularly when it comes to crowdsourcing initiatives where you have a significant number of ideas to sift through and assess.

  • First, it can be time-consuming and overwhelming to select the ideas to develop.
  • Second, ideas and perspectives might differ so there will be inconsistency and biases in the evaluation process.
  • Third, there is a tendency to pick the familiar over the distant ones.
  • And last, there is also the issue of the quality and level of detail of ideas varying widely, making it difficult to determine which ideas are truly innovative and valuable.

With all these challenges, you could overlook potentially great ideas. What’s more, in a crowdsourcing environment, there is often limited interaction between the idea generators and the evaluators, which can make it challenging to provide feedback and refine the ideas further.

To mitigate this, you need a methodical framework for evaluating ideas. You can learn everything about idea evaluation from this article.

In short, to create an evaluation process that works for you, it’s best to decide on a set of criteria that can help you sift through the ideas. For example, Viima’s evaluation tool gives you the flexibility to choose your own metrics and then analyze and make decisions based on those criteria, without the hassle of going through each of every idea individually.

To have a clearer understanding of how this works in practice, try out the crowdsourcing board template. We set it up so you can easily and safely start collecting ideas from outside the organization.

But remember that even with the best tool, before opening up the organization to the crowds, you will still have to work out your internal process and how that fits into the bigger picture, which takes us to the next point. 

  • Process integration: 

Poorly designed or executed processes can lead to low-quality submissions or misunderstandings about the goals of the initiative. A study suggests that besides the issue of managing crowds, organizations also fail to create a process around it.

This is a trap in which many organizations fall. Unless you build a process and plan that goes beyond the first steps of the crowdsourcing initiative, you might waste a lot of time and distract internal teams from using the time and resources on actually executing the strategy.

So, first thing first is to ask yourself if crowdsourcing will serve a bigger purpose. If so, how will it be part of your internal processes and what resources it will require?  Crowdsourcing shouldn’t impede internal practices and processes. It should align with the overall strategy and provide value for the organization.

Crowdsourcing shouldn’t impede internal practices and processes. It should align with the overall strategy and provide value for the organization.

Although we have discussed a number of potential pitfalls of crowdsourcing, it’s important to recognize that these issues are often complex and multifaceted. As such, there is rarely a single reason for failure.

To provide a more comprehensive understanding of crowdsourcing, we will next look at some examples of both failed and successful initiatives. 

When crowdsourcing goes wrong

1. Pepsi Refresh

In 2010, Pepsi launched “Pepsi Refresh”, a crowdsourcing initiative that invited people to submit their ideas for projects that could benefit their communities, with the winning ideas receiving funding from Pepsi.

While the initiative generated significant attention, it was ultimately considered a failure. Even though in terms of reach and visibility the campaign was a great success, the goal of increasing sale was missed. In fact, “Pepsi Refresh” did the opposite, losing the parent company some $350m.

One reason was the lack of alignment between the initiative and Pepsi’s core brand message. While Pepsi had traditionally focused on promoting its products, the Refresh Project shifted the company’s focus to community engagement and social responsibility.

Another issue with the Refresh Project was the complexity of the submission and voting processes. There were also concerns about transparency and fairness in the voting process. Some critics suggested that the system was easily manipulated, allowing certain ideas to receive more votes than they deserved, while others were unfairly overlooked.

This outcome highlights the importance of ensuring alignment with business strategy and values, as well as the big role played by transparency.

2. Nokia’s “IdeasProject”

Nokia’s “IdeasProject” was a crowdsourcing initiative launched in 2008 to gather ideas from customers and the public for the company’s product development. While the initiative generated significant interest and engagement from users, it ultimately failed to produce significant results, and was eventually discontinued.

One reason for the failure of the IdeasProject was a lack of follow-through and implementation of the ideas generated. While thousands of ideas were submitted and discussed on the platform, few were actually developed or brought to market by Nokia. This led to disillusionment and disengagement among users, who felt that their contributions were not valued or taken seriously.

Another issue was the lack of clear communication and marketing of the IdeasProject. Many customers and potential contributors were not aware of the initiative or did not understand its purpose, which limited the overall reach and impact of the platform.

3. Yahoo’s “Assignments”

In 2007, Yahoo launched “Assignments,” a platform aimed to leverage the collective intelligence of its users to generate high-quality content. The initiative allowed users to submit original content, including articles, photos, and videos, which other users could rate and review. Yahoo planned to use the best-rated content to enhance its news and information websites.

Yahoo failed to create a strong community around the initiative, which made it difficult to generate high-quality content. Furthermore, there were concerns about copyright violations, as some of the content submitted by users was copyrighted material.

Because the platform was plagued with issues, including a lack of quality control over articles submitted and disputes over payments to writers, the platform was eventually shut down in 2012.

When crowdsourcing goes right

Despite the challenges associated with crowdsourcing, we should acknowledge that there is still potential for success, and not all crowdsourcing efforts are doomed to fail.

1. Linux

Linux is a popular open-source operating system that was developed through a crowdsourcing initiative. The project was started by Linus Torvalds in 1991, who was a computer science student at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Torvalds wanted to create a free and open operating system that could be used by anyone, and he enlisted the help of other developers from around the world to contribute to the project.

The project’s success is attributed to its collaborative and decentralized development model, which fosters innovation and customization, as well as a strong community of passionate and supportive developers. Moreover, Linux’s technical merits, such as stability, security, and flexibility, make it a popular choice for a diverse range of applications, from web servers and supercomputers to smartphones and home appliances.

2. Ford

The “Make it Driveable” crowdsourcing campaign by Ford was launched in 2018 to gather ideas and solutions for making vehicles more accessible to people with disabilities. The campaign invited individuals and organizations to submit their ideas for features or modifications that would make driving and traveling in a car easier for people with disabilities.

The campaign engaged a diverse range of people and organizations, including disability advocates, engineers, and designers, in the co-creation process who generated a broad range of innovative ideas and solutions.

The “Make it Driveable” campaign showcased Ford’s innovation and leadership in the automotive industry, demonstrating the potential for crowdsourcing to drive meaningful change and create value for both the company and its stakeholders.

3. Lego

As mentioned above, Lego’s crowdsourcing platform, Lego Ideas has been running successfully since 2008. The platform allows Lego fans to submit their own designs for new Lego sets, and the community votes on their favorite designs. The Lego Ideas platform has been hugely successful, with several of the winning designs becoming popular and highly sought-after sets.

For Lego, crowdsourcing is a cost-effective approach to supplement its in-house capabilities and expand their line of products. Even more, because of the voting system they can assess whether a product idea has potential and demand among its customers.

For participants, Lego Ideas provides a valuable platform to share and contribute to the company’s mission of inspiring future builders. Users can gain recognition from their peers for their ideas and benefit financially if their product is successfully released to the market.

These are just a few examples which show how crowdsourcing can be applied successfully, as long as it’s in line with the company’s core values and goals, and it’s built on a framework that enables systematic use of the ideas from outside the organization.

But as previous examples have shown, crowdsourcing can also go wrong even for the most successful organizations. These examples can hopefully help you make a more informed decision, and inspire in the way you approach crowdsourcing, or open collaboration in general.

To recap, you need alignment between your crowdsourcing initiatives and the overarching strategy, integration with internal processes, a framework that enables idea management, evaluation and development and last but not least, an effective campaign to gather the crowds around your organization.

How to start crowdsourcing

First thing first. Does crowdsourcing align with your current strategic plans? If it does, the first step is to develop a clear plan for using crowdsourcing effectively.

If you are not sure which way to go, as a first step in choosing your approach, you can find inspiration in this chart from Deloitte, which shows a variety of crowdsourcing activities that cater for different needs.

Viima Crowdsourcing 1

Depending on your strategy, industry, and your company profile, you will probably know what type of crowdsourcing is most appropriate for your organization.

This will help you decide on other factors such as the type of contributions you are after, the resources required, and the audience you will target.  

Viima Crowdsourcing 2


1. Define your goals and set boundaries

The first step is to set clear goals for your crowdsourcing campaign. What do you want to achieve: is it brand awareness, ideas for improving products or customer satisfaction?

Decide on a set of metrics that will help you evaluate the success of the campaign and measure its impact. This will help you adjust as needed but also set realistic targets about the outcomes you think are possible. If you’re set to get disruptive or completely novel ideas that require technical knowledge and complex solutions, you have to carefully consider whom you want to target with the campaign.

2. Define the target audience and the engagement mechanisms

This step is essential for the success of your crowdsourcing. Without the right participants, you won’t have enough relevant ideas.

Think about who would have the most knowledge and expertise in this area and who would be most interested in providing their ideas and insights. Consider demographics such as age, occupation, location, and interests.

Depending on the goals you set or the types of ideas you are after, you will need different audiences. Sometimes there might be more generic ones, while in other cases you will want specific people with knowledge of the topic or interest in the field. On the other hand, sometimes it is more beneficial to have a diverse audience that can bring new and fresh ideas.

Once you have identified your target audience, you need to develop engagement mechanisms that will motivate them to participate in your crowdsourcing campaign.

Engagement mechanisms refer to the various ways in which you can interact with your target audience and encourage them to contribute their ideas. These mechanisms may include online platforms, social media channels, email campaigns, targeted advertising, events, and rewards or incentives.

It’s important to remember that engagement mechanisms should be designed specifically for the target audience.

3. Decide on a platform to support your activities

Once you have decided on the goals, determined the target audience, and the engaging mechanisms, you should next look for a platform that can cater to all your needs.

The platform should act as a transparent communication and exchange forum for participants. It should be easily accessible and simple to use, but also flexible enough to allow different use cases.

As mentioned above, many crowdsourcing failures are related to the inability of organizations to manage and integrate the initiative in their existing processes. Providing feedback and encouraging ongoing participation are also other important elements to consider when scouting for a crowdsourcing tool.

To get an idea of what open innovation platforms are out there and how they can be used for crowdsourcing, you can read this Guide to Open Innovation Platforms: How to Unlock the Power of Collaboration.

The selection criteria should consider factors such as accessibility to the target audience, the ability to integrate relevant engagement mechanisms to promote ongoing participation, and the capability to distribute incentives after the completion of activities.

4. Pilot and iterate

Consider starting with a pilot initiative to test the approach before scaling up.

No matter how well you prepare for something new, like crowdsourcing might be for some, you will most likely stumble a couple of times. And that’s completely fine.

No amount of research and shortlisting will give you the full scope of how it works in practice for your organization. That’s why it’s important to pilot on a smaller scale. And once you’re happy with the pilot results you are ready to scale up.

Doing pilots allows you to test the platform, check for compatibility with the platform, and test your plan and ways of working.

If you are not sure about the first step, get started with a platform and see how it would work in practice internally. Some vendors offer free user-based versions, like us here at Viima, and some have demos or other free trials.

Additionally, piloting may also help evaluate if you’re searching via the wrong criteria (of if your goals are misguided), or if your ways of working or processes are wrong for what you want to achieve. Also, consider using feedback from participants to iterate and refine the initiative over time.


As you can see, just as there are good parts about crowdsourcing, there are also bad ones. There is no one size fits all solution when you want to innovate, and just like many other methods and tools, crowdsourcing can be a great enabler for innovation.

Regardless of the pitfalls and numerous failures from other companies, crowdsourcing can still be highly beneficial for your organization.

To summarize, let’s recap the positive aspects of using crowdsourcing for innovation and the main factors to consider to fully leverage its benefits.
First, for crowdsourcing to work well, it should make sense for the organization’s strategy and overall goals. Make a plan, assess the needs and the capabilities to manage a process like this. Because indeed, crowdsourcing should be designed as a process that complements, and doesn’t hinder other activities within the organization.

Second, make sure you choose the right platform from the get-go. For optimal results you should aim for something that is flexible enough that allows multiple uses, from external idea collection to managing the entire innovation process.

Lastly, don’t over-rely on technology either, because that is just a tool that helps you move forward and be more efficient. The true benefits come when you start building connections, nurture talent and find new approaches to solve problems.

Image credits: Viima, Pixabay

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Co-creating Future-fit Organizations

Co-creating Future-fit Organizations

GUEST POST from Janet Sernack

In our second blog in this series of three, we opened the door to a threshold for a new kind of co-creative, collaborative and cohesive team spirit that catalyzes change through “innovation evangelism”. Focusing on building both internal and external talent, through empowering, equipping, and enabling internally cohesive and effective innovation teams.  They apply their collaborative and collective intelligence towards initiating open innovation initiatives co-creating future-fit organizations that are human-centric, adaptive, engaging, inclusive, collaborative, innovative, accountable, and digitally enabled.

Innovation evangelists are change catalysts who courageously experiment with different business models and processes, to crowdsource broad and deep innovation capabilities. Usually in new ways that breakthrough corporate antibodies and barriers and deliver sustainable, meaningful, and purposeful change.  Where, according to the recent Ideascale “Crowd Sourced Innovation Report 2021”crowdsourced innovation capabilities have grown and innovation output indicators like implementation rate and time to implement have improved. In fact, businesses that were able to rapidly adapt and focus on innovation(in 2020) are poised to outperform their peers in the coming years”.

Innovation teams don’t innovate

The purpose of an innovation team is to create a safe environment that unlocks organizational and its key external stakeholder’s collective intelligence and innovation agility (capacity, competence, and confidence) to build the capability to change as fast as change itself.

Where the goal is to create a high performing, connected, and networked workplace culture where people:

  • Understand and practice the common language of innovation, what exactly it means in their organizational context, as well as exactly what value means to current and potential customers as well as to the organization,
  • Develop a shared narrative or story about why innovation is crucial towards initiating and sustaining future success,
  • Have the time and space to deeply connect, collaborate, and co-create value, internally and externally with customers, suppliers, and other primary connection points to build external talent communities and value-adding ecosystems,
  • Maximize differences and diversity of thought within customers as well as within communities and ecosystems,
  • Generate urgency and creative energy to innovate faster than competitors,
  • Feel safe and have permission to freely share ideas, wisdom, knowledge, information, resources, and perspectives, with customers as well as across communities and ecosystems.

How innovation teams learn and develop

Sustaining success in today’s uncertain, unstable, and highly competitive business environment is becoming increasingly dependent on people’s and team’s abilities to deeply learn, adapt and grow. Yet most people and a large number of organizations don’t yet seem to value learning and adaptiveness as performance improvement enablers, especially in enabling people and teams to thrive in a disruptive world.  Nor do they understand how people learn, nor how to strategically develop peoples’ learning agility towards potentially co-creating future-fit organizations that sustain high-impact in VUCA times.

At ImagineNation™ we have integrated the four E’s of learning at work; Education, Experience, Environment, and Exposure with 12 key determining factors for co-creating future-fit organizations that sustain high-impact in VUCA times through our innovation team development, change, learning, and coaching programs.

Case Study Example

  1. Educational customisation and alignment

After conducting desktop research and key stakeholder sensing interviews, we customized our innovation education curriculum specifically to align with the learning needs of the innovation team.

We aligned the program design to the organization’s strategic imperatives, values, and leadership behaviors, we reviewed the results of the previous culture, climate and engagement surveys, as well as the range of business transformation initiatives. We then applied design thinking principles to “bring to life” the trends emerging, diverging, and converging in our client’s and their customer’s industry sectors.

Focusing on:

  • enabling people to perform well in their current roles,
  • building people’s long-term career success,
  • developing their long-term team leadership and membership development capabilities,
  • laying the foundations for impacting collectively towards co-creating future-fit organizations.
  1. Experiential learning a virtual and remote environment

We designed and offered a diverse and engaging set of high-value learning and development experiences that included a range of stretch and breakthrough assignments as part of their personal and team development process.

Focusing on:

  • encouraging people to engage in a set of daily reflective practices,
  • offering a series of customized agile macro learning blended learning options, that could be viewed or consumed over short periods of time,
  • engaging playful activities and skills practice sessions, with structured feedback and debrief discussions,
  • providing an aligned leadership growth individual and team assessment process,
  • introducing key criteria for establishing effective team cohesion and collaboration,
  • linking team action learning activities and evidence-based assignments to their strategic mandate ensuring their collective contribution towards co-creating future-fit organizations.
  1. Environment to support and encourage deep learning

We aimed at creating permission, tolerance, and a safe learning environment for people to pause, retreat, reflect, and respond authentically and effectively, to ultimately engage and upskill people in new ways of being, thinking, and acting towards co-creating future-fit organizations.

Focusing on:

  • developing peoples discomfort resilience and change readiness,
  • encouraging people to be empathic, courageous, and compassionate with one another, to customers as well as to those they were seeking to persuade and influence,
  • allowing and expecting mistakes to be made and valued as learning opportunities and encouraging smart risk-taking,
  • reinforcing individual learning as personal responsibility and team learning as a mutual responsibility and establishing a learning buddy system to support accountability,
  • offering a series of one-on-one individual coaching sessions to set individual goals and support people and the teams’ “on the job” applications.
  1. Exposure to different and diverse learning modalities

We designed a range of immersive microlearning bots by providing regular, consistent, linked, multimedia learning options and a constantly changing range of different and diverse learning modalities.

Focusing on:

  • providing an informative and targeted reading list and set of website links,
  • setting a series of coordinated thought leading webinars, videos, podcasts, and magazine articles aligned to deliver the desired learning outcomes,
  • outlining fortnightly targeted team application and reinforcement tasks,
  • helping the team to collaborate and set and communicate their passionate purpose, story, and key outputs to the organization to build their credibility and self-efficacy,
  • designing bespoke culture change initiatives that the innovation team could catalyse across the organization to shift mindsets and behaviors to make innovation a habit for everyone, every day.

Collectively contributing to the good of the whole

Co-creating future-fit organizations require creativity, compassion, and courage to co-create the space and freedom to discuss mistakes, ask questions, and experiment with new ideas. To catalyse change and help shift the workplace culture as well as crowdsource possibilities through open innovation.

In ways, that are truly collaborative, and energize, catalyze, harness, and mobilize people’s and customers’ collective genius, in ways that are appreciated and cherished by all. To ultimately collectively co-create a future-fit organization that contributes to an improved future, for customers, stakeholders, leaders, teams, organizations as well as for the good of the whole.

This is the final blog in a series of three about catalyzing change through innovation teams, why innovation teams are important in catalyzing culture change, and what an innovation team does, and how they collectively contribute toward co-creating the future-fit organization.

Find out about our learning products and tools, including The Coach for Innovators Certified Program, a collaborative, intimate, and deep personalized innovation coaching and learning program, supported by a global group of peers over 8-weeks, starting Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

It is a blended and transformational change and learning program that will give you a deep understanding of the language, principles, and applications of a human-centred approach and emergent structure (Theory U) to innovation, within your unique context. Find out more

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The Future of Fractional Employees

The Future of Fractional Employees

In my last article 10 Reasons to Hire a Part-Time Chief Innovation Officer, I looked at the reasons why an organization might want to hire someone part-time to lead their innovation efforts (a follow-up to my previous post Hiring the Right Chief Innovation Officer).

Now I’d like to explore the idea of a fractional employee in a much broader context with you. A few years ago in my popular white paper Harnessing the Global Talent Pool to Accelerate Innovation commissioned by Innocentive, I introduced the idea of building a global sensing network along with other ways that companies can reach outside their four walls to speed up their ability to innovate. I have continued since then to hypothesize that successful organizations of the future will possess more porous boundaries, becoming less like castles keeping everything inside their walls and more like atoms, freely combining with other atoms to form the molecules the market requires just-in-time.

Organization of the Future

Purpose and Passion

One of the key tenets of this belief is that purpose and passion are the key to unlocking the full potential of any human, and that inherently companies do a very job of unlocking either in their quest to match resumes with job descriptions.

In an effort to develop and retain employees, and fill discrete project needs, some companies are reaching beyond the job description to try and tap into more of the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the people they hire. One way this happens is through HR initiatives like the internal internships at Cisco, where a Finance employee with an interest or passion for marketing, could do an internal internship in Marketing, spending a small number of hours each week working on a discrete project with a resource need.

Outside of the organization, there are an increasing number of avenues for employees to use their un-tapped knowledge, skills, and employees to satisfy their quest for passion and purpose. These include challenge driven marketplaces for both crowdsourcing and open innovation, places like Innocentive, 99 Designs, Idea Connection, Crowdspring, and others.

Traveling the Hyperloop Ten Hours a Week

But now, we are starting to see direct to talent (DTT) models emerge. The latest example of the fractional employee model comes from Dirk Ahlborn of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), rethinking how companies are built in the first place. Instead of hiring full-time, salaried employees, Ahlborn has decided to crowdsource the labor to part-time workers and offer stock options in lieu of salary, successfully attracting about 450 workers, based in more than a dozen countries, moonlighting from organizations like NASA and Boeing.

HTT requires crowdsourced labor to commit to a 10-hour workweek to be eligible for stock. “The guys are working for stock options — they’re doing 10 times better job [than paid employees],” says Dirk Ahlborn.

Companies like Aecom, one of the world’s largest engineering design firms, are joining individuals in participating in the potentially “transformative” project, as a way to get employees executing mundane projects for the company to also get excited about building something new.

“I always tell everyone it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Ahlborn says. With 450 workers accumulated over the past couple of years and growing, Ahlborn adds, “It is becoming a movement.”

The Way Forward

From internal internships, to challenge-driven external innovation, to crowdsourced projects, to fractional employee initiatives, the world of work is changing as companies seek to accelerate to match the pace of continuous change and the continuous innovation expectations that come along with it.

If we go back to the Organization of the Future graphic above, you’ll see that job descriptions often overlap not just with employee knowledge, skills, and abilities but those of customers, partners, suppliers, and other employees as well.

Organizations seeking to increase their organizational agility will not only use tools like the Change Planning Toolkit™ but will also change their thinking about how they get work do

ne and will do a better job of recognizing when and where to tap into the abilities of other employees, partners, suppliers, and even customers to achieve the outcomes that will allow them to continue to surprise and delight their customers, clients, or constituents.

And this means embracing a fractional employee future.

Are you ready?

Get the Harnessing the Global Talent Pool to Accelerate Innovation white paper

Sources: Innovation Excellence, MSN

This article was originally featured on Linkedin

P.S. If you’re looking to hire a Chief Innovation Officer (an Innovation Enablement Leader) on a full-time or part-time basis, drop me an email and I can either tackle the role or find someone else who can!

Accelerate your change and transformation success

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Announcing the Crowd Computing Revolution

Designing Work for Man and Machine to Do Together

Announcing the Crowd Computing RevolutionI am proud to bring you a downloadable PDF of a piece I created on The Crowd Computing Revolution and the redesign of work that is now possible thanks to new technology tools and business architecture thinking that will allow man and machine to work more efficiently together than ever before.

Anyone who has read even one or two science fiction books or watched one or two SciFi movies inevitably finds themselves dreaming of a day when machines will free of us of some of the mundane tasks in our lives. Companies dream of this too. Witness the eagerness of companies to outsource entire job functions (or even more recently whole business processes) to third parties either onshore or offshore. Hackers and spammers have become quite adept at programming their machines to send emails to people or attempt to break through security around the clock, around the globe. We have built automated factories, interactive voice response systems, and devised all kinds of ways to put machines to work for us.

Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School at the University of Toronto has a simple framework from his treatise on Design Thinking titled The Design of Business, that shows how as we learn more about a knowledge (or work) area, our understanding and abilities allow us to move the piece of knowledge (or work) from something that is mysterious and performed in an ad hoc way by experts, to a level of maturity where we start to observe the patterns (or heuristics) in the knowledge area (or piece of work), to a stage where the work or knowledge is well-understood and can be reduced to an algorithm (or set of best practices) performed by lower skilled employees, and possibly even implemented as a piece of code to be executed by a robot or computer.

Knowledge Funnel

Source: The Design of Business by Roger Martin

But, as alluded to earlier, companies have not only become more comfortable with designing work to be executed by machines instead of employees, but also more amenable to many different sizes and shapes of work being completed by people outside the organization, including:

  1. Entire job functions (Contractors or Outsourcing Firms – Global Outsourcing Market was $95 Billion in 2011)
  2. Whole business processes (Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Firms – 2011 Market in excess of $11 Billion)
  3. Projects or initiatives (Outside Consultants)
  4. Discrete tasks (99Designs, Crowdspring, etc.)
  5. Micro tasks (Amazon Mechanical Turk, etc.)

Task and Micro-Task Division

Task and Micro-task Division

Over time the human race has moved from building simple machines that function as tools (like a forklift), allowing a man to do more with the help of the machine, to building machines and robots capable of completing a whole task (like painting a car or making an exact copy of a document). Has anyone seen a help wanted advertisement for a scribe lately? Meanwhile, our fully automated manufacturing and packaging plants use machines to complete an entire process. But machines aren’t suitable for every kind of work. They are appropriate for tasks that are well-defined and repeated continuously as part of a standardized process, but not a proper fit for tasks where judgment is required, particularly tasks with numerous exceptions, variability, or personalization.

As a result, typically machines and robots have been relegated most often to the production areas of a business, places where it has been easy to define specific tasks or even whole processes that can be designed for machines or robots to own and complete 24/7/365 if necessary.

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Rethinking Who (or What) Does the Work

Crowd Computing Part 2Rise of the Crowd

There is another growing trend that is now rivaling the growing power of robotics and automation – crowdsourcing. It all started with prizes like The Longitude Prize, but now thanks to the power of the Internet, companies and individuals all around the world are breaking down their projects and processes and tapping into the power of the crowd using loosely-organized, non-employee workforces like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to execute micro-tasks, getting whole tasks completed through sites like Top Coder and Crowdspring, or calling upon the crowd to solve difficult challenges using sites like Innocentive, NineSigma, and Idea Connection. Sites like these enable organizations to access knowledge, expertise, perspectives, or capacity that they don’t currently have in their organization (or to possibly to get a task or challenge completed at a lower cost). Check out my white paper Harnessing the Global Talent Pool to Accelerate Innovation to learn more about this topic and some of the strategies for successfully leveraging external talent.

Rise of the Business Architect

Our organizations face an innovation imperative amidst intensifying competition that is forcing an increasing number of industries to become commoditized. This increasing need for a sustained level of innovation and a requirement for innovation to be a repeatable and sustainable activity, has led to an increasing number of organizations to consciously design their approaches to the new businesses that they enter. This has led to the growth of two new business disciplines – business architecture and social business architecture.

NIH Business Architecture

Source: National Institute of Health

Business Architecture, according to Wikipedia, is “a modern technology-oriented business occupation…. Working as a change agent with senior business stakeholders, the business architect plays a key part in shaping and fostering continuous improvement and business transformation initiatives. Business architects lead efforts aiming at building an effective architecture for the business process management (BPM) projects that make up the business change programme. The business architect implements business models that require business technology to work effectively.”

Social Business Intersections Social Business Connections

Social Business Architecture on the other hand, facilitates and optimizes the group dynamics and interactions inside the organization, and Social Business Architects specialize in identifying the different parts of an organization that need to interact with groups of people outside the organization, how those parts of the organization should work together to communicate with people outside the organization, and help to identify and implement communications solutions that connect the organization with the target groups so that a meaningful connection and conversation can be built, and then helps to manage the conversations and the information and learnings from their outcomes for the benefit of the organization.

Social Business Attraction Social Business Engagement

Few organizations employ or are even yet aware of the need for Social Business Architects, but there are an increasing number of help wanted postings for Business Architects. This is because not only do organizations recognize the need to architect their new lines of business for maximum efficiency and to , but also because there are so many different ways that work can be executed (employees, contractors, consultants, outsourcing, business process outsourcing (BPO), crowdsourcing, and micro-task execution, that for maximum efficiency it now increasingly requires someone to investigate all of the options, break down the work to be done into jobs, projects and processes, tasks and microtasks so that the right resources can be hired, contracted, briefed, or otherwise engaged to ensure that everything is completed as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing

Investigating Examples of Crowd Computing

The Crowd Computing Revolution - Part ThreeMoving from The Design of Business to Redesigning Work

Business Architects have the opportunity to plan for the organization how work can move from mystery to heuristics to algorithms to code. Business Architects (or people filling this role in an organization) have the opportunity to redesign work in the most efficient way possible to leverage both man and machine to get the work done at the lowest cost possible. Technology now exists to allow Business Architects and managers to move beyond allocating work on a job, project, or process basis, and instead design flexible workflows that combine the use of humans and machines to complete the tasks that they are best suited for, or even for humans to augment the work of machines.

For example, imagine that you work in the purchasing department at a large multinational and every month you receive hundreds or thousands of invoices from suppliers all over the world in all different kinds of formats – electronic, mailed paper invoices, PDFs, scanned paper invoices, and even faxed invoices. Your job as purchasing (or accounts payable) manager is to track all of the invoices that you receive, get them entered into your ERP system, and ultimately make sure that they get paid. You can hire or use an existing employee or contractor to manually key them all in, or sign a big dollar outsourcing deal sufficient to support the hiring, training, and management of offshore resources by the outsourcer, or you could try and use OCR software to do the job, but it would fail because of the great deal of variability in both the input sources and formatting of the documents and you’ll end up needing human resources to interpret the OCR output anyways.

Crowd Computing Invoice Processing Example

Or, you could examine the workflow of the process and identify which micro-tasks humans are best suited to perform and which micro-tasks machines are most efficient and cost-effective at performing. Then assign the right micro-task to the right resource. In the case of human resources, this could be an employee, a contractor, an external expert, or even a resource you don’t even know or control (via a crowd workforce like Amazon Mechanical Turk, Elance, etc.). And finally for each micro-task, assign a level of confidence in the quality of the assigned resource’s output and a define a process for grading it. In situations where you have a high level of confidence in the micro-task’s output quality, you can move directly on to the next micro-task in the workflow, but if you have a low level of confidence in a particular micro-task output performed by a machine, assign an alternate process to validate that output (such as using someone via Amazon Mechanical Turk to validate that “yes, this is a purchase order number”).

But that is not all that is possible these days. It is now possible for systems that facilitate the management of this kind of atomized work structure definition and workflow management and assignment, like those from Crowd Computing Systems, to also use artificial intelligence to both learn from the corrections that humans are making to a machine-driven, micro-task execution to get more accurate in the future, but also to learn how to do micro-tasks that humans are currently performing without machine assistance and to help identify the best performing crowd resources to inform work allocation decisions and to perform overall output quality optimization.


In much the same way that outsourcing felt awkward 20-25 years ago and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) felt foreign a decade ago, the time has come for crowd computing to begin to be a tool that managers and Business Architects can keep in their toolbox to better allocate work across man and machine. The time is now for man and machine to work together in ways that they never have before, and to learn from each other. The time has come for businesses and work to not just be operated and executed, but designed for maximum efficiency. Should we be afraid as workers that the machines are going to take away our jobs and leave us with nothing to do?

No. In much the same way that tractors and steam shovels began freeing man and beast from back breaking work nearly two hundred years ago, there are many benefits for man to gain from the crowd computing revolution – the biggest being freedom from an increasing amount of mind numbing work. Organizations that embrace crowd computing stand to gain not only to potentially lower processing costs for many high volume processes, but also will benefit from acquiring the ability to reassign analysts and other highly-skilled and trained employees to higher value work – better leveraging their existing human resources while simultaneously increasing employee satisfaction, retention, and knowledge creation in the enterprise. Are you ready for the crowd computing revolution?

Click Here to Download The Crowd Computing Revolution PDF



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Building Virtual Diplomacy

Building Virtual DiplomacyThe Setup

Lets look at Innovation, Crowdsourcing, and the United States Government for a minute…

The world continues to move faster than ever and diplomatic responses from the United States are required that are both increasingly more complex and more urgent, and the required solutions must address the inherent situational challenges while also protecting the interests of the United States and its allies. To deal with this diplomatic reality, the United States State Department is embracing the principles of crowdsourcing, eGovernment, and open innovation and partnering with America’s best universities to help solve the World’s biggest challenges as part of a new initiative called Diplomacy Lab. I found the following after meandering through a bread crumb trail of tweets from @AlecJRoss (Hillary Clinton’s former Chief Innovation Officer):

Diplomacy Lab is designed to address two priorities: first, Secretary Kerry’s determination to engage the American people in the work of diplomacy. And second, the imperative to broaden the State Department’s research base in response to a proliferation of complex global challenges. The initiative enables the State Department to “course-source” research and innovation related to foreign policy by harnessing the efforts of students and faculty experts at universities across the country. Students participating in Diplomacy Lab explore real-world challenges identified by the Department and work under the guidance of faculty members who are authorities in their fields. This initiative allows students to contribute directly to the policymaking process while helping the State Department tap into an underutilized reservoir of intellectual capital. Teams that develop exceptional results and ideas are recognized for their work and may be invited to brief senior State Department officials on their findings.

This then led to me to information about another digital diplomacy program.

US State Department Harnesses Interns Around the Globe to Address Digital Needs

During Hillary Clinton’s tenure, the United States State Department introduced an eIntern program, as detailed on the State Department web site:

Virtual Student Foreign ServiceThe Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) is part of a growing effort by the State Department to harness technology and a commitment to global service among young people to facilitate new forms of diplomatic engagement. Working from college and university campuses in the United States and throughout the world, eInterns (American students working virtually) are partnered with our U.S. diplomatic posts overseas and State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and the U.S. Commercial Service domestic offices to conduct digital diplomacy that reflects the realities of our networked world. This introductory video provides an overview of the VSFS program.

VSFS eIntern duties and responsibilities will vary according to the location and needs of the VSFS projects identified at the sponsoring domestic or overseas diplomatic office. VSFS projects may be research based, contributing to reports on issues such as human rights, economics or the environment. They may also be more technology oriented, such as working on web pages, or helping produce electronic journals. Selected students are expected to work virtually on an average of 5-10 hours per week on VSFS eInternship projects. Students apply in the summer and if selected, begin the eInternship that fall lasting through spring. Most work and projects are internet-based and some have language requirements. Past projects asked students to:

  • Develop and implement a public relations campaign using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, etc. to communicate and reach out to youth
  • Conduct research on the economic situation, prepare graphic representations of economic data, and prepare informational material for the U.S. Embassy website
  • Create a system to gather and analyze media coverage on a set of topics including environment, health, and trade
  • Develop a series of professional instructional video clips to be published by the U.S. Embassy
  • Survey social media efforts of U.S. diplomatic posts, NGOs, and private companies around the world to help establish best practices in a U.S. Embassy’s social media outreach business plan.

The Conclusion

It is fascinating to see the world changing before our eyes and to see the children and young people of today engaged in commerce and government and entrepreneurship in ways that weren’t available to previous generations of young people. This only helps to accelerate the pace of change. But, the reality is that when an organization sits at the fork in the road and is making the decision of whether or not to actively engage people outside their four walls in their strategic efforts, the choice really is to either ride the crest of the wave by embracing and engaging talent outside your organization or choosing instead to get tumbled and drowned by this wave of progress by doing nothing.

What choice is your government or your organization making?

If you’re not sure how your government or your organization needs to change to adapt to these changing realities, check out my previous article:

What is the Role of Personal Branding in Achieving Innovation Success?

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Where Must Marketing Innovation Come From?

Where Must Marketing Innovation Come From?The world of marketing and advertising used to be very simple. If you got a branding or marketing job with a company, you would inherit an agency that the person above you or before you had hired to work with the company to get your advertising and marketing campaigns developed and executed. After a few years if you worked in an agency you might go work for a company and manage an agency, or after a few years working in marketing or advertising for a company you might leave to go work for an agency, and this cycle might repeat several times over the course of your career.

In this simple environment, companies looked to their agencies to bring them innovations in marketing and/or advertising.

But this simple world of marketing and advertising is being disrupted and made more complex in the same way that many other industries are (think book publishing, book retailing, management consulting, etc.).

We live in an era where people have more places in which they can collect and share experiences, both on-line and off-line. Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Instagram, hundreds of cable TV channels, hundreds of satellite radio channels, on-demand audio and video (both online and off), Pinterest, Instagram, meetups, unconferences, flash mobs, etc.

We live in an era where marketing and advertising work can be fulfilled not just via the company/agency partnership, but also via co-creation with customers, crowdsourcing, via crowdfunding, or utilizing cloud labor or crowd computing.

With the rise of the digital marketplace also came a plethora of new digital and social marketing and advertising agencies, many of which were snapped up by giants like WPP to infuse some new thinking and “innovation” into their traditional direct marketing and advertising execution methods.

But now, comes the news that Nissan (who has switched their slogan from “Innovation for All” to “Innovation that Excites”) has created their own Marketing Innovation Lab rather than just relying on their roster of agencies to bring them innovations. Nissan may not be the only company to do something similar, but it begs the question, where should marketing innovation come from?

Obviously Nissan doesn’t feel that they are getting enough innovation in their marketing efforts from their agencies, and it makes you wonder, shouldn’t it be the agencies not the companies who are looking to find and support upstart companies and apps with marketing and media potential?

Well, why should any company look to source innovation from any one place, even if it is marketing innovation?

I would say that every company looking to succeed at ANY type of innovation should be looking to collect dots to connect from as many sources as possible, including:

  1. Agencies and Advisory Firms
  2. Co-Creation with Customers
  3. Crowdsourcing
  4. Partners
  5. Suppliers
  6. Competitors
  7. Adjacent Industries
  8. Distant Industries
  9. Market Research (ethnography, surveys, focus groups, trends, etc.)
  10. Startups
  11. … (insert your favorite here)

So, where will your next marketing innovation come from?

And, who are you working with from outside in order to bring innovation inside?

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Harnessing the Global Talent Pool to Accelerate Innovation

In this webinar hosted by Innocentive I explore how organizations can utilize open innovation and crowdsourcing resources as an essential talent management strategy to drive their business.

You can engage me to create a webinar or white paper for your audience here.

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UPDATE – Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool

I am proud to announce that my crowdfunding project over on IndieGoGo for the Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool has already received support from EIGHT people to get the project off to a strong start. There are still lots of great perks available including discounts on the Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool and seminar kits, and even FIVE (5) two-hour innovation keynote and workshop combos at an incredibly discounted price.

The Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool will come with a series of simple exercises and a deck of roles cards to help create a fun, interactive experience for innovation teams or organizations to use to help people better understand what roles they fill on innovation projects, why the team’s or organization’s innovation efforts are failing, and how they can together improve the innovation performance of their teams or organization.

Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool Coming Soon

Design for Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool

You can click to read more about The Nine Innovation Roles, but here is the ethos behind it:

“Too often we treat people as commodities that are interchangeable and maintain the same characteristics and aptitudes. Of course, we know that people are not interchangeable, yet we continually pretend that they are anyway — to make life simpler for our reptile brain to comprehend. Deep down we know that people have different passions, skills, and potential, but even when it comes to innovation, we expect everybody to have good ideas.

I’m of the opinion that all people are creative, in their own way. That is not to say that all people are creative in the sense that every single person is good at creating lots of really great ideas, nor do they have to be. I believe instead that everyone has a dominant innovation role at which they excel, and that when properly identified and channeled, the organization stands to maximize its innovation capacity. I believe that all people excel at one of nine innovation roles, and that when organizations put the right people in the right innovation roles, that your innovation speed and capacity will increase.”

Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool Coming Soon

The Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool and Workshop can help you identify why your innovation efforts are failing or how your innovation teams could be more successful in the future. Don’t wait. Book a workshop, or pre-order the group diagnostic tool and run a team building exercise of your own.

Book a Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Workshop

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Announcing the Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool

I am proud to announce the availability of the Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool for pre-order as part of my crowdfunding project over on IndieGoGo. There you will find lots of great perks available including discounts on the Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool and even FIVE (5) two-hour innovation keynote and workshop combos at an incredibly discounted price.

The Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool will come with a series of simple exercises and a deck of roles cards to help create a fun, interactive experience for innovation teams or organizations to use to help people better understand what roles they fill on innovation projects, why the team’s or organization’s innovation efforts are failing, and how they can together improve the innovation performance of their teams or organization.

Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool Coming Soon

Design for Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool

You can click to read more about The Nine Innovation Roles, but here is the ethos behind it:

“Too often we treat people as commodities that are interchangeable and maintain the same characteristics and aptitudes. Of course, we know that people are not interchangeable, yet we continually pretend that they are anyway — to make life simpler for our reptile brain to comprehend. Deep down we know that people have different passions, skills, and potential, but even when it comes to innovation, we expect everybody to have good ideas.

I’m of the opinion that all people are creative, in their own way. That is not to say that all people are creative in the sense that every single person is good at creating lots of really great ideas, nor do they have to be. I believe instead that everyone has a dominant innovation role at which they excel, and that when properly identified and channeled, the organization stands to maximize its innovation capacity. I believe that all people excel at one of nine innovation roles, and that when organizations put the right people in the right innovation roles, that your innovation speed and capacity will increase.”

The Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Tool and Workshop can help you identify why your innovation efforts are failing or how your innovation teams could be more successful in the future. Don’t wait. Book a workshop, or pre-order the group diagnostic tool and run a team building exercise of your own.

Book a Nine Innovation Roles Group Diagnostic Workshop

Build a Common Language of Innovation

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Is Crowdsourcing a Fad or a Foundational Element?

Much has been written about ‘crowdsourcing’ and the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ over the past several years, including “Crowdsourcing” by Jeff Howe – a contributing editor at Wired magazine, and “Wisdom of the Crowd” by James Surowiecki – a staff writer at The New Yorker.

Crowdsourcing – “The act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.” – Jeff Howe

‘Wisdom of the Crowd’ – “Refers to the process of taking into account the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than a single expert to answer a question.” – Wikipedia

For those of you not familiar with crowdsourcing, here is a good video from Jeff Howe:

So, what will happen to ‘crowdsourcing’ and ‘wisdom of the crowd’ as more and more companies start to employ these techniques.

Will the crowd remain wise or lose its predictive powers?

One thing is certain. Organizations will continue to use ‘crowdsourcing’ and ‘wisdom of the crowd’ together to help them find ideas that will resonate with their targets.

Organizations will, however, have to work harder to market their initiatives as the competition increases for people’s time, if they are to maximize the value they accrue from the effort.

What do you think?

I recently used crowdsourcing to source the design for my upcoming Nine Innovation Roles interactive card game and received several good designs and one awesome one. Now I am using crowdfunding on IndieGoGo to raise the money to make it a reality and will be bringing sample cards with me to the Front End of Innovation 2012 in Orlando next week (Save 20% with discount code FEI12BRADEN).

Oh, and I will also be looking to crowdsource a software application for people to use on their iPad, iPhone, Android, or other mobile device too, so stay tuned!

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