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Innovation: +1UP

December 21, 2012

Two of our collective were fortunate enough to attend PA Consulting’s ‘Big Innovation’ evening in London a couple of weeks ago.

The approach was straightforward – part PA sales pitch, part ‘how can we solve the “big and wicked” problems of the world?’ and part networking.

The sales pitch was interesting – PA have basically taken some data analytics tools and applied them to a couple of real-world situations. Big data in action. So I can look at some real-time amateur meteorologists data and some almost-real-time hospital admissions data.


(photo from

Big deal.

The problem is that these solutions – and the thousands crafted by my firm and yours – are designed to solve a particular problem – or set of problems. They are defined and confined by our client’s requirements. The NHS want better access to admissions data: voila. The Met Office want to collect more data: done.

If we are going to solve the big and ‘wicked’ problems of the world, then surely we need to think a bit bigger? IBM started something with Smarter Planet; where are the other firms at with their efforts to pool solutions, expertise and knowledge into something more altruistic? I know, I know, it’s not our job to do this – but the event just started the ol’ brain synapses firing.


“What’s the ROI for our consulting firm solving global warming?” (photo from

This moves us quite nicely onto the middle part of the event; the meat in this networking sandwich. The panel discussion involved senior executives from Google, TfL, Legal and General, Raspberry Pi and PA themselves. It circled around some familiar questions: social media, the increasing pace of technological change and the role of the ‘individual’ in relation to the ‘organisation’ (member of staff, customer, client, job applicant etc). So far so good, as expected Mr Google was the most forward thinking and eager to embrace innovation in most areas, whereas the traditional insurance firm with a disparate customer demographic were keenest to hold on to traditional channels and methods.

The interesting part came when the discussion stumbled upon the ideas of crowdsourcing and its subsequent gamification. For example, did you know a large pharmaceutical company used a ‘gamified’ scenario to try and identify a drug composite that they’d been working on for 10 years to solve? In the game scenario, it took Joe Public two weeks to find the answer.


(photo from

This kicked-off the head-neurons again – there’s nigh on 7 billion people in the world that have fresh insights, comment and ways of thinking that can be tapped up. 2 billion (give or take a few hundred-million) of them are already on the internet, 1 billion of them are on Facebook and 200 million are on Twitter. Cookies and digital footprints mean that it’s pretty easy to see what people are buying, reading and watching etc. Using this as a foundation, interests and hobbies can be grouped up and packaged with only basic rudimentary affiliate tracking software.

So we have a huge number of people and we know what they consume. But what do companies do with this information? They sell to us. They sell to us in every single corner of the web. They sell to us in YouTube videos, Facebook and Twitter feeds, in search engine results and on seemingly every website imaginable.


(photo from

But how much effort would it be to use this data differently? What I’m trying to say is how can we use social data to crowdsource answers to wicked problems? And I don’t mean the passive way it’s done at the moment with things like the UK government’s epetitions website; I’m talking about pushing questionnaires, ‘gamified’ scenarios and debates into relevant communities using the data and technology we already have from the world of online advertising.

Take a small-scale example: Microsoft have your data; they know you are a tablet-using gamer who owns an Xbox. Say Microsoft are trying to build a new OS for mobile devices, they could push a link into your timeline on your social media platform of choice, offering you something like Xbox live points as reward for playing a game that analysed where and how your intuition leads you to navigate menus, functions and buttons on a mocked up tablet. Hey presto, Microsoft know how x many millions of people tend to use tablets that can inform their OS design, the user is happy as they get 1) Xbox live points 2) The satisfaction of completing a game 3) The knowledge that they’ve contributed to the build of a ‘new thing’. And the social media platform is happy as they have Microsoft’s money for the promoted advert.


Happy gamers, happy Mark Zuckerberg, happy Microsoft/estate of Bill Gates

Or say you read an article on the guardian’s website about a new government initiative, you retweet the article, then you get a promoted tweet come up in your feed inviting you to comment/debate/vote on that particular initiative – maybe it’s been worked into a series of scenarios for you to play out. Here the incentive is purely self-motivation and therefore doesn’t even need rewarding or monetising – you’ve clicked the link so are likely to feel strongly about it already. The ‘So What?’ here is that policy-makers get to road-test initiatives, pollsters can use them as a litmus test and think-tank’s can crowdsource new ideas.


Rather than going on a march or making a sign, you could actually have the opportunity to constructively influence something. (photo from

So how long until someone takes this small scale idea and makes it bigger? How long until SimCity players are cultivated by city mayors for their town planning expertise? How long until I play a game that sees me contribute to alleviating the burgeoning pension crisis? The budget deficit? Third World famine?

So the event was good; but it wasn’t good or big enough to even start conceptualising these problems. We need bigger ideas and bigger thinking that don’t fit with 99% of consulting firms mantras – we’re (rightly) too client-focused… And no client is ever going to ask us to find world peace.

So apologies for the lack of ideas around how we make this happen – this is why I’m a humble management consultant and not a Nobel laureate.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play FIFA 2013 in the hope that the FA crowdsource me as the next England manager…


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One Comment
  1. It’s time to crowd source our global leaders through a MMO (Massively multi-player on-line game). The naysayers might suggest we could end up with a spotty teenager running america but we’ve had worse

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