Crowdsourcing the winning National Lottery numbers


Image by seyahmas via Flickr

Last Wednesday, illusionist, Derren Brown, correctly predicted the winning number in the National Lottery live on air. Quite a feat. But one he achieved with 100% accuracy.

Between the Wednesday live prediction and the Friday explanation, social media sites were awash with theories and conspiracies explaining what had happened. From discussions on Twitter to videos on YouTube. Most of these suggested a slight-of-hand or other such trick. The real answer was much more interesting. Brown cited ‘crowdsourcing’ as the magic behind his impressive prediction.

The explanation was actually quite simple, at least on face value. He got 24 people to collectively predict the numbers using crowdsourcing, The Wisdom of Crowds.  The theory that together people can more accurately resolve a problem or reach a decision when working as a group than when operating alone. Whether you believe this explanation or not (and there are certainly those who are sceptics), the use of crowdsourcing in this mass-media entertainment show highlights the widespread understanding and acceptance of this tool.

We’ve written before about the power of co-creation for businesses and how working with your customers to crowdsource new products and ideas for your organisation can produce better ideas and better products than you might have developed internally. From creating t-shirts (in the case of Threadless), encyclopedias (in the case of Wikipedia) or maps (in the case of OpenStreetMap), using crowds to solve problems has proven to be very successful. In a business-environment it can be incredibly effective.

The most intelligent people probably don’t work in your firm, and so if you can find them and let them work  with you to solve a problem you will often get the kind of innovation that you just can’t get internally. This is where online communities such as Innocentive come to the fore. They allow companies to ask the community to solve a specific problem or issue and reward them (in this case financially). Community product design is used in such cases to provide extra support and input either when internal resources don’t have  the time or the ability to solve the problem.

So whether Derren Brown’s crowdsourcing explanation holds water or not, it is clear that  there is a lot you can do when you get people to work together in a community to solve a problem.

If you missed the show, then you can watch it (at least in the UK) on 4OD.