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Experts in a digital age: The expert in the crowd

There is an on-going debate around expertise in a digital age and crowdsourcing circles this debate is amplified. There are two polarised camps on this that merit some consideration.

Team A are the crowd evangelists, those for whom the power of the many, collective insights and collaborative innovation represent a new highly effective and powerful tool for informed decision making and innovation.

Team B are the sceptics who will vehemently argue that group think, poor insight and inaccurate data/decisions are the true output of crowdsourcing.

Taking these two viewpoints and overlaying expertise is genuinely interesting (at least for me!).

Let’s consider an organisational crowd, a group of a few hundred people across a company, who represent each part of the company and a cross section of seniority, tenure and of course expertise. The company looks to source ideas to a complex challenge the business is facing in its engineering division. The business throws this challenge out to all employees.

The most popular ideas are in favour of Team B not feasible or practical for the business. They are too expensive, not really addressing the issue (it was complex after all) or have already been tried and failed. However, one suggestion, relatively poorly described is seen by a member of the engineering team and it sparks an idea in his mind. He feedbacks and branches the idea out, bringing others in. (Team A are feeling pretty happy all of a sudden!). However, this team member is a pretty junior member of the team, not recognised as a particular expert in his field (see Gladwells 10K hours).

Does this matter- of course not! The idea is surfaced, it develops and proves a huge success. Our junior engineer’s reputation in this area grows too, and the whole organisation shared in this.

The conclusion, at least in my mind, is a practical one. Taken at face value the arguments of A & B have merit, but embracing systems and process to truly engage a wide group in the ideas development process, evolving input and learning expertise can and does derive value, as this account bears testament to!

Simon Hill is CEO and co-founder of Wazoku, an idea software company, an Associate Director with the Venture Capital Firm FindInvestGrow and an active member of the London technology and entrepreneurial community. Simon is an alumni of PWC, Deloitte and Cap Gemini.


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