Saturday, September 10, 2011

A tragedy of the creative knowledge commons?

There's a new kind of tragedy of the commons emerging. But it's not the kind of "commons" we usually think of when too many villagers graze their cows or sheep on the public land.

This one seems to be a superficially good idea, but when you examine the concept closely, you realize it is the value of people's collective brainpower and skill that is being diminished. And our opportunities for earning a living off the resource reduced.

It's called crowd sourced innovation. It is being touted as a fabulous way for big corporations to connect with the creatives in our midst.

It works like this. Big company wants some new ideas/designs for product line. Hundreds of talented people slave away for hours or days, imagining, conceptualizing, designing and contributing (giving away) their ideas and their effort to a corporation in return for what? One of them wins the job. Several win consolation prizes. The rest of us try harder next time and in the meantime starve.

Odds 100-1

Some dole queues are really short. They are the queues where organizations can't find enough people to perform the work. There's 0.25 nurse practitioners queuing up for every job available. Email marketers are also hot, with 0.65 people applying for each job ....which means demand exceeds supply. There's 3.5 million jobs in manufacturing requiring high level maths, science and technology skills which can't be filled. Then there's the Silver Tsunami, the hundreds of thousands of skilled workers such as engineers and nurses who will be retiring in droves over the next decade. Some of them are being hired back as contractors as soon as they retire.

Odds of getting hired: absolute certainty.

Construction worker: It's a tough queue to be in at the moment, with construction in the doldrums. You wait on a dusty street corner with other manual workers for a man in a truck to pull up. The driver offers you a days work.  Here's a reasonable bet (maybe one chance in two or three) you will succeed.

Odds 3-1

Advertising: It's much worse than the handful of advertising agencies that spend a week of their time pitching  for new business. The pitch just cost your firm $4-5 million to be in the game. Which rather limits the field.

Odds: 4-1

RFPs: The Request for Proposals from government agencies for a training, consulting, workforce or economic development job often attracts dozens of potential providers. Each will slave away for several days developing a strategy in advance to win the implementation work.

Odds of 10-1

If this is the way that big corporations and government are going to avoid hiring talented young people and pay fairly for their work, then what can we expect to happen instead?

Perhaps, over time, enough of the creative people will become so tired of being ripped off  they will change the game. Maybe we can expect new highly interconnected forms of creative interactions between talents and customers to emerge. Maybe we will see close, trusted co-committed relationships for the creation of high value added "wise application of knowledge" products and services that make a difference and where the people who design/develop/implement them are really appreciated.

So here's a workshop to help us rethink a strategy for rewarding people in these rapidly change times:

1. Unemployment in the USA is running at 10 per cent. What in your opinion is the value of as many of these people getting back to work as soon as possible?
2. What might be the social/economic consequences of continuing high unemployment (until 2017 according to Government sources)?
3. What would you personally pay, from what you earn, to get someone you know back to work?
4. How should people be remunerated for their work or contribution to the economy or society?
5. How should we remunerate these unpaid workers: housewife or househusband, child minder, community volunteer, crowd sourced worker?
6. How could we resolve the mismatch between the 1 in 5 of people who leave school unable to read write or count properly, and the jobs (vocational, especially in maths, sciences and technology) that are available and remain unfilled?
7. If you were a creative type - designer, inventors, innovator - and you found that crowd sourcing innovation websites were a lottery, how would this change what you do in response to the hit-and-miss aspects?

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