Response – Should BP crowdsource potential solutions for the Gulf oil spill?

Response - Should BP crowdsource potential solutions for the Gulf oil spill?Hutch Carpenter asks on Blogging Innovation: Should BP crowdsource potential solutions for the Gulf oil spill?

Crowdsourcing has indeed proven its value time and again. In We Think Charles Leadbeater demonstrates its power to harness the collective brains of people across the globe to design strategies to solve problems more effectively and rapidly than formal organization could ever do.

In his post, Hutch examines three factors that might be holding BP back:

  1. Site becomes a place for public criticism
  2. Little previous experience with crowdsourcing
  3. Deep technical domain experience is required

The first one, the risk that the crowdsourcing site could become a place for public criticism, appears to be obsolete by now. There is plenty of public criticism already in the open, and no shortage of channels for such public criticism to express itself. As Hutch points out, all that would be required is a simple sieving mechanism to separate ideas from criticism, which sounds to me like a simple job for a junior PR assistant.

The second factor – little experience with crowdsourcing – also seems to be well past its use-by date, for two reasons:

  1. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The oil spill is an environmental catastrophe on a new scale. In the case of the Exxon Valdez, at least the quantity of oil was known and finite; in the case of Deepwater Horizon, oil continues to leak from the damage well with no short term prospect of stopping it. What does a mere lack of experience with crowdsourcing weigh against such urgency?
  2. The story of the Lean’s Engine Reporter in Cornwall 200 years ago stands as a good reminder that no previous experience in crowdsourcing is necessary to make it work. It is only a matter of getting a core team to set the communication channels and rules. Contracting such a core team of crowdsourcing experts does not seem to pose any major challenge.

The third factor, the depth of technical experience required, should not be an obstacle either. Again for two main reasons:

  1. Even if deepwater drilling is indeed a specialist field, there will be several thousands of specialists working for different companies in the oil industry, who have at least some relevant knowledge and experience and whose brains could be harnessed much more effectively through an open innovation forum than through the formal – and inevitably hierarchical – cross-company assistance channels.
  2. Innovative solutions come from people at the edge of the field of expertise. To innovate – and who would dispute that innovation is now urgently required here? – you need to get out: reach out to these people who have some connection to the topic without being experts. These are the people least likely to be invited through formal channels to participate in the resolution of the problem.

The time for in-house expert-only solution has come and gone. It is now time for something different: crowdsourcing brings potentially large benefits with very low risks and costs involved.

Image: U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephen Lehmann

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Yann Cramer is an innovation learner, practitioner, sharer, teacher. He’s lived in France, Belgium and the UK, he’s travelled six continents to create development opportunities with customers or suppliers, and run workshops on R&D and Marketing. He writes on and on twitter @innovToday.

Yann Cramer




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No Comments

  1. Oliver on May 31, 2010 at 4:56 am

    The web site has a solution idea submission page. What it lacks is the kind of information any engineer would need in order to submit actually useful ideas, such as:

    – Detailed technical information about the situation at the well (e.g. physical characteristics of the pipe, technical specs and condition of BOP).

    – Assets on the ground (e.g. technical specs and capabilities of RC subs, cranes, pumps, etc).

    – A list of possible solutions that have already been considered and rejected, with a detailed analysis of the cause for rejection.

    Then, of course there would need to be a forum for discussing new ideas.

    Why neither BP nor the US Government have setup a site like that is beyond me.

  2. Ryan on May 31, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Please check my video on youtube I have a solution to stop the oil from destroying our oceans.

    Ryan, Finnbogason

    Spread the word

  3. John on May 31, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Stick a pipe in the massive gushing hole, shut the valve and call it flawless! Once it’s under control, they could attach some sucking device to the top of the tube and open the valve.

  4. Evelyn on May 31, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Use a balloon similar to the medical Blakemore Tube

  5. Touchyourdream on May 31, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Thanks for sharing your insight.

    It would be recommendable to use crowdsourcing specially for the most uncertain events like Black Swans and Outliers, which enables us to see them from various perspectives, and get good ideas or solutions for them.

  6. Letram on June 5, 2010 at 9:23 am

    You cannot plug it, there is too much pressure.
    Put a large ciment funnel on top, (small side up)
    attach a hose/pipe to the small end of the funnel
    suck up the petrol (and a bit of sea water) into tanker ships
    send it to be separated and refined.

  7. Letram on June 5, 2010 at 10:08 am

    It cannot be plugged, too much pressure
    place a cement funnel, small side up
    attach a hose to the small end
    pump up the petrol (and some salt water) into a tanker
    ship it to refine it.

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