On a recent visit home to India, I came across an interesting article in the in-flight magazine which piqued my interest. The article talked about an event that Pepsi held called a ‘bio reactive concert’. The more I kept reading, the more I wanted to know what the hype was all about.

So, here is how Pepsi conducted their ‘bio reactive concert’. Guests were given a bracelet called Lightwave on arrival. They were given one rule: do not take the bracelet off!  
But why you may ask? Well, the bracelet essentially measured key physiological metrics such as movement, heart rate, galvanic skin response and much more. The physiological data drawn from each of the participants were used to shape the experience of the room. 

Rewarding behaviour

The momentum of emotional engagement was kept either through unlocking free Pepsi drinks at regular intervals (rewarding collaborative working) or leaderboards showing the energy levels of the dancers (recognising individual efforts).  Tunes were changed based on the energy levels of the crowd (real time engagement with the crowd). These changes were influenced by behaviours of the group rather than opinions.

This, then, is the new emerging technological trend that is set to change the way we look at engaging with a group of people: crowdshaping.

What is crowdshaping?

You may well be familiar with the principles of crowdsourcing, where insights, opinions and information are gathered through different social media and online channels. It can also be used to build one’s knowledge or to change services in a particular consumer-driven environment.

Well, crowdshaping is where crowdsourcing comes of age. 

Crowdshaping uses biometric as well as physiological information “drawn from the people inside a defined physical area to shape and reshape — often in real-time — a product or service that those people use”. 

In the past year or so, crowdshaping has worked successfully in small scaled controlled environments. A good example is where bus routes are managed in the Ivory Coast by actually analysing time and location data of commuters’ frequent routes and re-routing buses so that they reduce travel time by 10%.

Crowdshaping is still in its nascent state of maturity. But with the advent of wearable technology and access to mobile and GPS information, there is only growth foreseen in this space.

Your employer as ‘self-improvement partner’

Imagine, for example, moving from traditional recognition and reward programmes. What if organisations leveraged crowdshaping to reward actions that are good for the employee? The idea of a brand becoming a a trusted self-improvement partner is already a reality.

For employers, one way this could be managed is by using wearable technology to track employee engagement on a daily, real-time basis rather than using the traditional approach of the annual engagement surveys. Wearable technology would enable organisations to take corrective measures to increase engagement and motivate their workforce on a real-time basis. It could be something as simple as adjusting the temperature levels in the office space to create an optimal working environment or providing real time incentives based on the data collected to influence behaviour.

Sharing personal data for rewards

Companies have started to embrace this technology. For instance, an organisation in Sweden recently offered their employees the chance to have a microchip implanted under their skin to allow them access to various services like entering the building premises and photocopy machines.

But does tracking employees’ physiological data to influence behaviour infringe on one’s privacy? It depends, on the individual and the organisation. Research shows that 57% of consumers are willing to share additional personal information, such as their location, top five Facebook friends’ in return for financial rewards or better service. (Coleman Parkes, April 2013).

So, if the organisations are transparent about what information is going to be used and for its intent, then more trust is developed and employees could potentially embrace the benefits.

Return on (personal data) investment?

If organisations, do decide to jump onto the crowdshaping bandwagon, there are several things that they would need to consider:

– The legal implications of the technology.
–  The investment in large numbers of wearable technology.
– Building a culture and environment that supports the new ways of working.
– Developing HR policies that support the privacy of the employee and to ensure that the information is not to be used to influence any other decisions towards the employee.

There is no doubt that wearable technology is here to stay and organisations that leverage this technology without infringing too much on their personal lives will be able to become a self-improvement trusted partner. This can be a powerful brand to be associated with. But it is a double-edged sword and without proper policies, culture and securities in place, this could either make or break the reputation of an organisation.

Is it a trend that would catch on in the next 3 – 5 years? What are the other benefits crowdshaping could have towards the employee? What do you think? I’m interested in your thoughts.