Crowdsourced or Collaborative-source?

Grant McCracken posts an interesting dilemma for design professionals that is relevant to people in all types of professional services.

At year’s end, I have an unhappy thought, that some of the creative professionals who rose to prominence in the first decade of the 21st century will be eclipsed by the end of the decade coming, that the first decade of the 21st century will be, for some creative professionals, a brief moment in the sun.  

Why is this?

According to McCracken, it is a product of changes in the supply of able designers, the demand for design services by corporations, and the approach these companies take to utilize the supply of design talent available to them. McCracken relates the following conversation.

Recently, I was chatted with a friend. He’s owns a design firm.  Over the years he’s done very well, thank you very much. But he can see a cloud on the horizon.  He is seeing some corporations "crowdsourcing" their creativity.  They hold competitions in which all the design talent "out there" is encouraged to apply.  The best work is selected…and paid much less than my friend would have charged.  In sum, demand may be increasing, but supply is increasing more. So prices are falling. 

In essence, technology allows for more people to provide design services and for those purchasing them to do so at a lower cost.

This is both the beauty and bain of crowdsourcing.

Is there an alternative to this trend toward commodification of professional services?

McCracken suggests that designers consider the following.

In the new "crowdsourced" economy, there will be one place where designers will continue to flourish.  It will be with clients who do not know what they need.  When they do know what they need, they will take advantage of the new economy.  But when they don’t, they will need a enduring connection with a designer who gets who they are, who the consumer is, and what the culture is.  They will need designers who deliver a larger package of knowledge, intelligence, and creativity. (Emphasis mine.)

He is absolutely right in his assessment. Crowdsourcing is fine as long as you are clear about what you want. If, however, you need a strategic assessment of your needs and a comprehensive plan to address it, crowdsourcing isn't your answer. 

What Grant McCracken is pointing to is a distinction between creative ability as a commodity, and creative perspective as a marker of distinction. 

For designers to avoid falling into the trap of being in a commodity business, they must "creatively" look beyond the boundaries of their own profession to see those people with whom they can collaboratively join to provide a value-added service as he describes above.

Of course, this doesn't just apply to designers, but to all professional service providers, for physicians, CPAs, lawyers, counselors, and wealth management professionals. The world of the professions through the advance of technology and the growth and availability of information is being commoditized. It touches everyone of us.

The answer to the "crowdsourcing and commodification of professional services" comes in a new type of collaborative. In this group, professionals from across a range of disciplines join together in a "collaborative relationship of understanding" that is built on "a system of shared values."  What this kind of collaborative group allows to develop is a client-centered value-added range of services that would not typically be available to a client from any one professional service provider.

For example, my services as a leadership consultant and life/work coach are now available to the clients of a collaborative group of wealth management professionals. I provide a value-added service of strategic insight and direction beyond investment, insurance and tax advice their clients receive from them.

There is an assumption in this type of collaborative that no one company can have the best in every field working for them. This type of collaborative is, therefore, intentionally crossing organizational boundaries to create a new type of organizational structure, one based on a commitment to the values that govern the relationships between members and their companies.

The key to these collaborative relationships is the recognition that the collaborative is not about me, but about the clients that WE can serve.

When a collaborative structure of this type forms, it is not directly an answer to the commodification of professional services. It is an answer to how I can better serve my clients. 

Your specific service may still become a commodity in the long run. However, the difference is the relationship that can be developed with the client that allows for a more strategic approach to meeting the client's needs to be developed.

Don't wait to get crowdsourced or commodified before you begin to establish the relationships that can lead to the kind of collaborative that adds value to the services you provide.