Ochlophobia – or sometimes known as Enochlopobia or Demophobia: Extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to crowds.

Interesting term, since the modern Greek word that I’m familiar with “enochlo” means to bother or bug someone. So “enochlophobia” in modern Greek translates to “fear of being bothered” 😉

I attended an interesting conference (Crowdopolis) a few weeks ago which focused on the power of the crowd – leveraging masses of people, both large and small, to develop innovative new ideas, create new products, improve existing products and services, and generally perform tasks for your typical enterprise. While the conference itself provided many examples of the positive effects of using the crowd to the advantage of everyone, there still seemed to remain a pervasive sense within the attendees from some of the companies there that leveraging the crowd in this way was still risky.

Most of the more forward thinking of the organizations which presented definitely understood the power of the crowd – in fact a few of them discussed how some of their latest breakthroughs could only be attributed to the crowd – that even though their internal teams had developed some amazing results, once they had opened the challenge externally, they experienced even better results.

These companies were unafraid of the input of the crowd because they were focused on the end goal: providing better product and creating better experiences for their customers. They didn’t hold back the crowd, they didn’t force the crowd to go in the directions they wanted them to, they didn’t discard the possibly dangerous or edgy solutions which may have involved developing product which would cannibalize their own offerings.  In short, they weren’t afraid of the crowd developing something that would be a threat to the organization – all that they were concerned with was building better stuff.

Some of the others, not so much. You could sometimes hear the fear in the voices of the questioners – reading between the lines on how something like openly discussing ideas, even within the constraints of an internal employee innovation program, was something that was a threat to the organization.

Why is this? There may be a number of reasons. Perhaps the organization was too wedded to the internal hierarchy that it had built (we can’t have this, employees must speak only to their direct manager if they have any ideas, we can’t let people access the CEO with their ideas directly) or maybe they were too worried that developing innovative new ideas would take them away from their “day jobs” of running the operation (of course in my experience, most of the ideas seem to be generated during the employees off hours, and simply recording those ideas does not take away much time) or they may even just not trust the crowd (I remember a time when a CEO of a company I used to work for openly dismissed what they called “user generated content” and in one blanket statement, basically insulted all of the content creators on its network).

The fact of the matter is that the crowd is amazing. They can be, if you do it right, a tremendous asset to your organization, developing innovative new products and services, and improving your current product set immensely. Some enterprises are so afraid of the crowd that they won’t even provide them with opportunities to be heard, let alone think about implementing any of those ideas. Don’t be that enterprise: at the very least develop a program to capture ideas from your employees, allow them to have that outlet. See what great stuff you can get out of it, then expand from there.