By Karen Axelton
“Crowdsourcing,” or turning to groups of people to get ideas or complete a project, has been a hot topic for a while now—and seems to be growing by the minute. But is the crowd always smarter than the individual?
Last week’s episode of Project Runway, the reality show where designers compete to create the winning garment, suggests not. In the August 26 “challenge,” the 12 contestants were split into two teams of six and asked to design a collection of six garments.
One of the teams, dubbing itself “Team Luxe,” featured the best designers on the show; the other team was sort of a “Bad News Bears” of contestants who’ve lost challenges and had, as judge Michael Kors would say, “severe taste issues.” Moreover, the team with the better designers was led by Gretchen, a contestant who had won several challenges and was emerging as the leading contender to take the final prize.
But what happened? Team Luxe decided to submerge their individual personalities, come up with a collection of clothing that merged everyone’s style together and all work on the pieces as a group. The lesser team gave each of its six members free reign in designing his or her own garment, as long as it adhered to some basic principles so there would be unity among the outfits.
In other words, Team Luxe “crowdsourced” its designs. What happened? Well, the results were shocking to any Project Runway watcher, as the better team sent out a collection of outfits that were more hideous than a J.C. Penney catalog spread circa 1972. With not a whiff of personality or flair, these clothes hurt your eyes to watch. The judges were disgusted.
Meanwhile, the lesser team wowed the judges with a collection of six looks that were not only coherent, but somehow showed each designer’s individual flair.
What’s the lesson for entrepreneurs? Listening to the opinions of everyone on your team is fine. So is getting input from your customers or prospects. And you can even take advice from a random “crowd” you source on the Internet, if you want to. But when it comes down to the final decision of what action to take, what product to make or what road to follow in your business, you need a strong individual—or individuals—to take the reins. Otherwise, your final product or service will as bland as institutional gruel—and something no customer will want to pay for.