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500 Harvard Business School Alumni Contribute to First Crowdsourced Article

Harvard Business Review recently published its first formally crowdsourced article, a piece entitled “The Capitalist’s Dilemma” that included contributions from almost 500 Harvard Business School (HBS) alumni. The experiment was designed to helped build on a theory put forth by renowned HBS Business Administration Professor Clayton Christensen about the flawed way that companies make investment decisions, which he first explored as part of a New York Times article in 2012.

Lead authors Christensen, who is best known for his work on disruptive innovation, and Derek van Bever, a senior lecturer in entrepreneurial management at HBS, used a collaborative platform developed by HBS alumni, called OpenIDEO, to first define the questions they were asking and later solicit input and peer review for the piece.

Colin Maclay, who directs HBS’s Digital Initiative, explained the approach in a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The concept of crowdsourcing an article was to put ideas “out in the open, so that, one, everyone can see them, and two, people can comment on them, elaborate on them further, and help to develop them, to take what might be a kernel of an idea into something that’s much more powerful,” he said.

“Part of our intention in piloting this was to demonstrate the power of this approach for other faculty at HBS and beyond,” van Bever said in a statement. “And we really believe that, going forward, taking advantage of this capability is not only possible, it’s really revolutionary in terms of the speed with which we’re able to work.

“But also with an alumni base as rich in experience and diversity of perspectives as ours is, you’d be crazy not to tap that if you could,” van Bever added.

The debut crowdsourced article was considered a huge success. “Clay has said very recently that he never wants to go back to the old method,” van Bever noted.

Digital Initiative, one of seven new cross-disciplinary efforts underway across HBS designed to examine and contribute to innovation and disruption in business, is now compiling a series of additional crowdsourcing challenges for the coming academic year. Next up is one that will draw on alumni from HBS and Harvard Medical School to examine ways to improve the quality of healthcare or reduce its cost on a large scale.

Read a Harvard Gazette article on the crowdsourcing experiment.