Facebook had 1.44 billion monthly active users around the world in the first quarter of 2015, while Twitter boasted 302 million and Instagram topped 300 million. It seems safe to say, then, that many of us are used to sharing our lives with strangers and virtual friends, and have used social networks to crowdsource at least one burning question in our lives: from little things like where to go out for dinner, to big things such as what kind of car to buy or where to educate our children.
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What former Microsoft marketing director Lior Zoref, 44, does in his new book, “Mindsharing: The Art of Crowdsourcing Everything” (out now in hardcover from Penguin imprint Portfolio, $26.95), is take the bits that many of us already know about crowdsourcing – like the concept that your Facebook friends may know things you don’t – and combine them with the bits we may not even have thought about – like what makes a good crowd – to produce an engaging guide to online networking, replete with many real-life examples.
“If we learn to rely on and trust the wisdom of the crowd, our decisions will be better, quicker, and easier,” Zoref writes. “It is important to note that when we Mindshare, we aren’t asking others to think for us, but rather, to think with us. Through actively Mindsharing, you can access the global brain, which is far more powerful than any individual brain, and hack your way into a better career, stronger relationships, and the fulfillment of virtually any dream or goal you can imagine.”
Zoref doesn’t just write about “mindsharing,” which he describes as the process of crowdsourcing our decision making; he also lives it. Zoref has used his engaged followers across all social media platforms – whom he calls his crowd – to help him come up with the term itself, as well as to catch the attention of the audience at his 2012 TED talk on the subject – by bringing a live ox onstage so the audience could guess its weight.
Fittingly, his book about crowdsourcing was also crowdsourced, even down to its price tag, he told Haaretz. An Israeli version of the book, which will be published in Hebrew by Kinneret Zmora Bitan and will have more Israel-specific examples, is due out at an unspecified date for the crowdsourced price of roughly 60 shekels.
“Until now, everyone has written books on their own,” says Zoref, who lives in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. What he set out to do, by contrast, was “write a book with thousands of people.”
Zoref consulted his crowd to find topics for the book, ways in which people can benefit from access to what others think – like finding things from a job to a medical diagnosis to true love. His crowd also connected him with people whose stories he ended up writing about; urged him on when he told them of his writer’s block; and even critiqued the first draft of the book, which he posted online as a Google document for just that purpose. One law student posted a list of related research findings that could have taken Zoref six months to find. Others, he says, weren’t embarrassed to make comments like, “You’re talking too much about yourself here – make it shorter.”
With the help of his friends, Zoref demonstrates how to be more strategic when it comes to asking friends, acquaintances and strangers to help us think through the many different kinds of decisions that affect our lives. “Ultimately, the process itself dramatically improved the book,” says Zoref. “I hope people think the book is good not because of my wisdom, but because of thousands of people and the wisdom they shared with me.”
Zoref makes it clear he didn’t go it alone – having written this book with a crowd at his fingertips, he says, “It’s hard for me to understand how to write a book any other way” – and shows us we don’t have to, either.
Here are seven of Zoref’s tips to taking crowdsourcing to the next level:
1. Make a lot of friends (whether or not you’ve ever met IRL)
Taking a poll of your closest friends might be fun, but your besties aren’t really a big enough crowd. To be effective, mindsharing requires at least 250 friends (or, er, “friends”). That’s the combined number of all the people you interact with through your blog, your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feeds, or any other social media network. “There is a power in crowd wisdom, and this power is harnessed through technology and social media,” Zoref writes in “Mindsharing.”
2. Weakness makes you stronger
Having a big crowd is great, but it’s not enough. You also need to have different kinds of friends. In other words, a good crowd is diverse as well as large.
It’s actually those “weak ties” – friends of friends you may not know in real life, but who provide that dose of heterogeneity that keeps you from existing in an echo chamber-ber-ber-ber – that give your crowd more power. Not only will they make your Facebook wall or Twitter feed less boring, they’ll probably know someone or something that the folks in your primary circle of friends don’t.
3. Expert schmexpert
Maybe you’re thinking that the issue you’re facing is something only an expert can advise on. But even for subjects that require specialized knowledge and skill – like, say, pediatrics – the wisdom of the crowd means that a large enough group of people can be at least as smart as an expert (even if they don’t all agree with each other). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your kid to the doctor, but sometimes a large and diverse crowd can offer more collective wisdom than one individual physician, even a good one.
On the flip side, just as experts can get it wrong sometimes, even Zoref concedes that crowds can, too. “Crowd wisdom does not mean that the crowd is always right, but that a crowd can be as smart as an expert,” he writes.
4. Make yourself vulnerable
People are more likely to respond when they sense you’re being genuine. “Vulnerability is powerful,” writes Zoref. “And it takes courage to be vulnerable.”
5. Give your crowd the recipe
Provide value to your crowd by sharing things that educate or inspire, that help people do their jobs better or assist them in their personal lives. “Value is making someone laugh, think, or feel,” writes Zoref. “When you create value, you create an engaged crowd. And ... when you have an engaged crowd, you can achieve almost anything.” Don’t just tell your crowd you baked an apple pie; give them the recipe and ask them how it came out when they tried it.
6. Don’t be the telemarketer everyone hangs up on
“If you are always trying to sell your crowd something, they will quickly disappear,” writes Zoref. “No one likes to feel like they are constantly being pitched a product or bombarded with advertising. The quickest way for your crowd to disengage or even unfriend you is if they feel you are pushing a hidden agenda.”
7. Don’t let others borrow your wife
You are in a long-term relationship with your crowd. You’ve gotta wine ’em, dine ’em, thank ’em – and, somewhat counterintuitively, keep them to yourself.
Zoref learned the hard way that his crowd did not appreciate it when he got so excited about mindsharing, he regularly asked them for help not just for himself but for his (real-life) friends as well. “Imagine someone walking up to you and saying, ‘Hey, I really like your wife Can I borrow her for this one thing I’m trying out?’ A person wanting to use your crowd is the same idea,” writes Zoref. “My crowd did not like this. Not one bit.”