Should we go to the crowd first? Lessons from running crowd contests in life sciences – 2017 Harvard Business School Symposium: Engineering & Entrepreneurship: Innovation in Healthcare

Karim R. Lakhani is Professor of Business Administration, HBS

Prior to documenting Prof Lakhani’s lecture, I wanted to acknowledge that it was a great honour to hear him speak – he is a “big name” in terms of crowd research, and 3 weeks ago when I was at the MIT Management conference, his research was referenced in Andrew McAfee’s talk which you can find here.

There are two ways to organise a crowd:

  1. Competition/contests
  2. Community/collaboration

Karim has been running the crowd-sourcing lab in collaboration with NASA, TopCoder and the medical school – 1) trying to solve innovation problems and 2) do research around the crowd.

Is Crowdsourcing a solution to the Challenges of Life Sciences Merging with Information Sciences?

Challenge 1: Data Explosion in life sciences from petabytes (10^15) to exabytes (10^18)

Challenge 2: Labor Market Shortage in Data Scientists

Challenge 3: Intense competition for data science talent

Challenge 4: Rapid change in approaches to solve data challenges

Prof Lakhani has found that the crowd is cheaper, faster and better.

Are Crowds Smarter than Harvard Medical School?

I mentioned this study in my article based on Andrew MacAfee’s lecture at MIT.

The crowd was much quicker and more accurate at sequencing the white cell genome, than the existing technology used by HMS (black triangle is NIH):

Figure 1

Benefits of Crowdsourcing

By getting more people involved in a project, you get more talent at the excellent end of the bell-curve (or normal distribution) and “more shots at the goal”.

For any distribution, you can calculate how many “draws” – or participants – you need, to get an excellent result.

Whilst internal experts (of the company hosting the competition) may still on average be smarter than the crowd, because you increase the probability of getting an excellent candidate you increase the probability of success.

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