Power to the Crowd: Same Meat, Different Gravy?

Crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, crowdforcing and collaborative consumption: it is clear that everything 'crowd' or 'collaborative' is hot.
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Crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, crowdforcing and collaborative consumption: it is clear that everything 'crowd' or 'collaborative' is hot. Customers, ambassadors, employees, people in the know and complete strangers are involved in creating pathways and finding the answer to the great variety of issues we have to deal with in these complex times.

We collect money through crowdfunding, invent the most fantastic products through crowdsourcing and gather thousands of votes to make a statement through crowdforcing. All extremely interesting and powerful tools that are at the basis of even more interesting examples such as Kickstarter, Wikipedia, Avaaz.org and Airbnb.

Now I would like to ask you a question: are these new 'techniques' really all that new? Or are they simply a case of 'same meat, different gravy'? Let's be honest: door-to-door charity collection is surely the purest form of crowdfunding. And did you know that the Holy Bible, the worldwide bestseller that has been translated into almost 500 different languages, was written by 40 (divinely inspired) authors from a wide variety of backgrounds? And last but not least: the friendly act of lending your tools to your fellow villagers is also hardly anything new.

In that respect there is nothing new under the sun and it is almost as if we are merely honoring old traditions. What, in my perspective, is truly revolutionary is the way in which the Internet provides us with the opportunity to connect, activate, engage, share visions and ideas, and collaborate in ways that never been done before. So that we can do and create great things together. The Internet provides people with the right (and sometimes wrong) ideas, who want to create added value for all stakeholders, with access to a huge audience. And it is this - access to a huge international audience by using approachable and affordable tools - which is truly innovative.

These past three years I had the opportunity to personally experience these 'new' techniques when working on my Brand Expedition project. For this project I quit my job in 2010 to spend five months traveling through Europe in an old Volkswagen T2 campervan, visiting the leaders of twenty inspiring European brands such as LEGO, Adidas, Koenigsegg, Skype and The Body Shop. I used this project to learn new ways of working and creating value together. By sharing my story and ambitions from the start, I soon found myself supported by a fantastic group of ambassadors, who provided me with new ideas, practical help, and feedback - but who also made my journey possible by introducing me to the right sponsors, media contacts, etc. Through equity-based crowdfunding I raised 20,000 euros, from 171 investors, for the English translation, design and publication of my book. Thanks to a Twitter campaign, I arranged a DHL cargo Airbus for free for a photo-shoot - in less than four hours. And when Dutch entrepreneurial magazine Sprout put me on the shortlist of the 20 best Dutch entrepreneurs of 2011, my ambassadors, who had been following my adventures for two years by then, helped me win this competition.

Had you had told me this story five years ago - about the things a completely unknown guy was able to achieve - I would simply have laughed at you. Had you told me that this same guy would be able to create a network that would allow him to reach over 5,000 people within just a few clicks, I would have laughed even harder. In that respect, a lot has certainly changed. We are living in unique times, the possibilities are endless and sometimes I feel like a small child in a candy store, desperately trying to pick the perfect combination of colorful and delicious sweets that won't make me feel sick afterwards. The challenge lies in judging these new possibilities correctly and not allowing myself to be seduced by the hype. Because if I do, these new possibilities will quickly lose their luster. And that would be a shame. The new economy has its foundation in the 'old' economy - and the magic is when they do not hinder each other but instead manage to complement and reinforce each other.

The most important lesson I learned about involving 'the crowd' is that the only way, and I really mean the only way, to be successful when engaging a crowd in reaching your long-term goals is by constantly and consequently focusing on the question of how you can create maximum added value for every stakeholder and on how you can create a platform that allows not only you, but also the other stakeholders to share their story and have their moment in the limelight. It is not about you or me: it's about us. This way you create trust, you stay authentic and you show others that you can't do it on your own. And finally: if you manage to keep the threshold low and find a good way to let the online world complement and reinforce the offline world, then the magic will happen - and you will be able to make the most of it. Without having to hide away in a corner with a stomachache when it is all over and done and without having to decide never to touch another sweet.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in association with TEDxKalamata's conference onJuly 26-27 in Greece. For more information, visit www.TEDxKalamata.com.

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