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Unleashing the Crowd

Collaborative Solutions to Wicked Business and Societal Problems

  • Book
  • © 2020


  • Demonstrates how innovative and useful solutions can be generated by crowds of people who spend only minutes, receive minimal financial incentives, use relatively simple technology platforms and have little in common with each other
  • Examines how to encourage knowledge sharing without creating apprehension of losing intellectual property
  • Offers a new approach to engage crowds of diverse people in solving the big problems of a company, a neighbourhood, or a society.

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About this book

This book disrupts the way practitioners and academic scholars think about crowds, crowdsourcing, innovation, and new organizational forms in this emerging period of ubiquitous access to the internet. The authors argue that the current approach to crowdsourcing unnecessarily limits the crowd to offering ideas, locking out those of us with knowledge about a problem.  They use data from 25 case studies of flash crowds — anonymous strangers answering online announcements to participate in a 7-10 day innovation challenge — half of whom were unleashed from the limitations of focusing on ideas.  Yet, these crowds were able to develop new business models, new product lines, and offer useful solutions to global problems in fields as diverse as health care insurance, software development, and societal change. This book, which offers a theory of collective production of innovative solutions explaining the practices that the crowds organically followed, will revolutionize current assumptions about how innovation and crowdsourcing should be managed for commercial as well as societal purposes.

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Table of contents (11 chapters)

  1. Part I

  2. Part II


“This book is written in a unique, lucid, story-telling style that caters to both practitioners seeking tangible tactics for enhancing their use of the crowd and scholars seeking to understand the state of the crowdsourcing literature and the data and methods necessary to advance such research. ... The transformation sparked by this book will further ignite the imagination of practitioners and researchers of innovation alike as to the potential of the crowd.” (Daniel Armanios and Huiyan Zhang, Administrative Science Quarterly, November 6, 2020) “‘Group cognitive processes’ are often at work during collaboration. The authors have explicated these crucial processes and in doing so help innovation and social innovation leaders understand where such radical new processes rightfully belong in their quiver of innovation approaches.” (Alpheus Bingham, President, CEO and Co-Founder, InoCentive)

“The first very interesting and novel book on crowdsourcing in years!  The authors look deeply into how effective problem-solving via crowdsourcing works - and provide us all with very valuable insights for both new research directions and improved practice.” (Eric von Hippel, Professor, MIT Sloan School of Management, USA; Author, Democratizing Innovation and Free Innovation)

“The authors show us that open crowds have surprising capabilities to tackle even wicked problems, and anyone seeking to gain new innovative insights from diverse knowledge sources will fi nd this book a stimulating and invaluable reference.” (Henry Chesbrough, Professor, UC Berkeley, USA; Author, Open Innovation)

“A book that describes how to manage crowds collectively innovating is badly needed.   I know through personal experience that it’s a competitive advantage to unleash the crowds not simply to get their ideas, but to have them collaborate and collectively produce. Majchrzak and Malhotra aptly fill this gap” (Dirk Ahlborn, Founder and CEO of Hyperloop Transportation, Technologies Inc and Jumpstart, Inc)

“The principles for crowdsourcing laid out in this book are simple yet highly effective. I have witnessed them at work first hand. After seeing many crowdsourcing events prior to using the principles in this book, I completely agree with their approach.  These are really two books in one. One written for the academician and the other for a crowd-sourcing practitioner, but also important for the social scientist and philosopher.  The book is a description of innovative research describing the necessary steps to fully release the innovation power of the crowd and also an exploration into the nature of human creativity that is stimulating well beyond the world of business.” (William Bonfield M.D., P.H., life fellow A.A.P.L., Chief Medical Officer Optum Behavioral Health, retired)

“In this expertly researched book, Ann and Arvind offer a refreshing look at crowdsourcing: Drawing upon sharp examples and insights, the authors build a roadmap for organizations to develop crowdsourcing as a key capability for collectively producing innovation among the crowds. A timely and important reading, particularly in the age of technology platforms and big data organizations.” (Dr. Konstantinos Trantopoulos, Accenture Growth & Strategy)

“Majchrzak and Malhotra show us that we can advance crowdsourcing the same way we can advance innovation itself: by opening it up!  Open crowds have surprising capabilities to tackle even wicked problems, and anyone seeking to gain newinnovative insights from diverse knowledge sources will find this book a stimulating and invaluable reference.” (Henry Chesbrough, Professor, UC Berkeley, USA; author of the award winning book, Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology)

“Majchrzak and Malhotra have authored a ground-breaking book of how crowds can be deployed to solve complex and difficult problems.  Based on hands-on research, inventing a new method on organizing crowds and careful reflective analysis they show the five practices needed to achieve high-value solutions collaboratively from the crowd. This book is a must read for practitioners in all types of organizations who want to achieve breakthrough innovations by using both internal and external crowds. Scholars will appreciate the book for its rigor and creative theorizing on crowd innovation.” (Karim R. Lakhani, Charles E. Wilson Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, USA; author, Revolutionizing Innovation)

“Ann and Arvind have done a fine service for both the innovation research community and practitioners of innovation. Crowds and open innovation are a crucial innovation logic that contrasts with traditional closed logics. Yet research and practice on the effectiveness of crowd-based innovation is equivocal. This book both reviews the literature in this space and makes concrete and bold suggestions on when, where, and how to use crowds to solve wicked societal and organizational problems. This is a well conceptualized and well written book on this crucial innovation mode. Well done.” (Michael Tushman, Baker Foundation Professor, Paul R. Lawrence MBA Class of 1942 Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, Charles B. (Tex) Thornton Chair of the Advanced Management Program, Harvard Business School, USA; Author, Lead and Disrupt: How to Solve the Innovator’s Dilemma)

“Tackling wicked problems is not just for individuals and teams. Majchrzak and Malhotra’s theory of collective innovation offers a breakthrough that provides five practices to design on-line “crowd” platforms for superior innovation performance. The theoretical and practical insights from their impressive field research make for a winning combination. I highly recommend this book.” (Jackson Nickerson Frahm Family Professor of Organization and Strategy, Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis, USA; Nonresident Senior Fellow in Governance Studies, Brookings Institution)

“How to extract wisdom from the crowd to solve humanity’s hardest problems, is critically important but poorly understood. Majchrzak and Malhotra offer a seminal treatise on crowd-based problem solving, deeply rooted in outstanding empirical research on a variety of collaborative projects. A must-read for any innovation scholar!” (Georg von Krogh, Professor and Group Head, Strategic Management and Innovation, ETH Zurich, Switzerland)

“This book offers anoriginal approach to how individuals and organizations can develop and collaborate with communities for idea generation. The book skillfully demonstrates how communities have unique properties that enable them to generate and share knowledge that can solve specific types of problems better than other organizational forms. As such the book is a valuable resource for managers as well as for researchers.” (Lars Frederiksen, Professor of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Dept. of Management, School of Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus University, Denmark) 

“In an age where we are often so dismissive of the ideas and opinions expressed by others, this book reminds us how much more productive we can be, when in addition to questioning others, we are willing to challenge our own assumptions and beliefs.  We can do so much more when we remain open to the possibilities we can create together.” (Ray Eugene Reagans, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Management and Professor of Organization Studies, MIT Sloan School of Management, USA)

“This book is a unique and timely contribution to the study of crowdsourcing. Ann Majchrzak and Arvind Malhotra combine with unusual astuteness conceptual analysis with practical relevance to produce a book of great interest to researchers and practitioners of crowdsourcing, crowd-based knowledge development and digital innovation more widely.” (Jannis Kallinikos, Professor, London School of Economics, UK) 

“The promise of open crowds for dealing with wicked problems is unprecedented. Majchrzak and Malhotra’s novel yet actionable approach makes essential reading for anyone dealing with the big business societal challenges of our time” (Ola Henfridsson, Professor of Information Systems and Management, Warwick Business School, The University of Warwick, UK) 

“Getting people who don’t know each other and who will likely never meet to come up with solutions to society’s biggest problems seems like a pipe dream. Yet it is the driver behind most crowdsourcing initiatives. In Unleashing the Crowd, Malhortra and Marchrzak take one of the biggest steps ever toward turning this dream into a reality. Their recommendations – drawn from impressive data collection – are imminently practical and provide the wisdom we need to use crowds effectively”. (Paul Leonardi, Duca Family Professor of Technology Management, UC Santa Barbara, USA)

“Ann Majchrzak and Arvind Malhotra are exactly the right people at the right time to help us leverage crowdpowered innovation. In Unleashing the Crowd: Collaborative Solution’s to Wicked Busienss and Societal Problems, they share results of their research and show that unconstrained, unleashed, crowds (very different from most current strategies) are powerful contributors to solving today’s biggest problems.” (Terri L. Griffith, Keith Beedie Chair in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Simon Fraser University, USA)

Authors and Affiliations

  • University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA

    Ann Majchrzak

  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA

    Arvind Malhotra

About the authors

Ann Majchrzak is Chaired Professor of Business Administration and Digital Innovation at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, USA. She is an internationally-known scholar in the fields of management, organization science, and information systems, as well as publishing in top practitioner journals.  This is her fourth book.

Arvind Malhotra is H. Allen Andrews Professor of Entrepreneurial Education and Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA. He is an expert on innovation processes, inter-organizational knowledge management, and virtual teams having published in many top-tier academic and practice oriented journals.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Unleashing the Crowd

  • Book Subtitle: Collaborative Solutions to Wicked Business and Societal Problems

  • Authors: Ann Majchrzak, Arvind Malhotra

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: Business and Management, Business and Management (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-030-25556-5Published: 12 November 2019

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-030-25557-2Published: 06 November 2019

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XXIX, 302

  • Number of Illustrations: 34 b/w illustrations

  • Topics: Popular Science in Business and Management, Innovation/Technology Management, Business Strategy/Leadership

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