The Next Generation of Problem Solving

Innovation Times

Posted by JR Reagan on March 21, 2013

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I have a problem.

And thanks to the Internet and social media, I can quickly and efficiently collect the information I need for a solution. If I face a human resources issue at work, I can reach out for expert advice from thousands of professionals on business networking sites. If something’s wrong with my home or car, a simple post will prompt friends and followers to chime in with suggestions.

Technology makes it easy for me to aggregate information, and use the collective knowledge and opinions of others to help solve problems.

It’s also changing the way businesses, municipalities, and not-for-profits work to solve problems.

Companies that previously used focus groups to solicit opinions on new products now involve their social media fan bases in the product-design process. Cash-strapped cities count on citizen input to help prioritize their next moves. Causes now find “cures” via popular social media platforms.

The scientific method of defining a problem properly, and testing hypotheses in real-world settings still holds true…but in ways Descartes could never have envisioned.

Crowdsourcing: Collaboration 2.0

Crowdsourcing is the new outsourcing. Presenting a problem or a task before a group to look for solutions has become the norm. Companies use crowd-sourcing platforms for product design and branding ideas.

Wikipedia’s list of crowdsourcing projects includes everything from the arcane, to the ordinary, to lifesaving endeavors., a collaborative effort between Scientific American magazine and the Citizen Science alliance, invites the crowd to analyze whale songs. Lawn Mowing Online teams local homeowners with people who need to earn a buck or two, today. With Rideshare 2.0, drivers can announce available seats in cars, creating a social transportation network. The Katrina PeopleFinder Project included 90,000 entries of information about missing persons following the hurricane.

Open Innovators encourages companies to incorporate internal and external information to drive innovation, and offers tools and leading practices for open innovation. The site includes links to platforms for problem solving, ideas, marketing, freelancing, and collective intelligence, as well as corporate, peer-to-peer, and public crowdsourcing initiatives.

Social media: Fast acting solutions

When customer service issues flare up on social media sites, fast-acting companies can get ahead of the problem and offer solutions.

Likewise, local governments and not-for-profits are airing their problems on social media platforms…and finding solutions.

In April 2012, San Francisco launched ImproveSF, a problem-solving platform that seeks solutions from the city’s citizens. Its first initiative invited residents to help redesign the look of bus fleets, trains, and signage, as well as suggest time-reduction ideas. Other challenges addressed food, the environment and neighborhoods; currently, San Franciscans are offering designs for a new library card.

Social media brings attention to worthy causes, making it easy to donate or volunteer. Hope140 is “highlighting good social movements that you might want to get involved with.” As of this writing, earthquake relief for Japan and Haiti share space on the front page with International Literacy Day. Nearly 1.8 million charities are registered at JustGive, a single source for donors to make private, safe online donations, and NetworkForGood, another online platform for causes, has received $700 million in donations.

Problems, solved?

There aren’t quick fixes for many of the problems we face today. But there are platforms for change and innovation that are working to address them, platforms that solicit input from customers and citizens alike. And there’s a new generation of problem solvers on the way…a generation that groups like Social Citizens see as vital to paving the way for future social and technological change.