I was inspired to tackle this subject after seeing the first ever crowdsourced TED talk delivered by Lior Zoref in early January, 2016. It was created in collaboration with thousands of his own social media friends and followers.
Topic: Mindsharing and the merits of crowdsourcing, well, everything. Lior looked around and saw most leading corporations tapping into “crowd theory”, and wondered to himself,
“Why can’t I live my life using crowd wisdom?”
That question blew my mind. I run a successful startup consultancy, and understand the power of combining individual expertise.
Are we ready to crowdsource everything? No, definitely not. But, today we do find ourselves at the dawning of a new paradigm – the era of crowd wisdom.
For example, Mr. Zoref talks about a woman who relies on crowd wisdom to raise her child, on a daily basis, and says it feels like she has access to her own super-nanny. Instead of books, or search engine fodder, or even her personal doctor, she simply reaches out to her crowd for common issues like:
- When should I stop breastfeeding?
- The baby is sick, should I head to the hospital?
- How long should I let the baby cry at night?
The idea here is that the crowd, or the kind of crowds you and I can tap into or create right now (or already maintain), are smarter than us. They’re more resourceful. They’re spread out across the world and each connected to their own crowds.
A crowd of individuals, together, can be far more than a single person. Together we become more. Unified, we are unstoppable.
Of course, we’re talking about social networks. But when you begin really seeing how prevalent digital crowd-mind already is, you realize we’re just a step away from really harnessing it.
“What if an entrepreneur built, expanded, and maintained a business solely on crowd wisdom?”
Let’s think about it.
Let’s imagine your average Joe social media user, with a couple thousands followers made up of close friends, family, and connections they’ve made along the way. Joe comes into some money and wants to finally chase his dream of starting a business.
He asks his crowd, “What kind of business should I start?” Or, “I had this idea to…so, what do you think?”
They notice things about him he didn’t consider. They see patterns he can’t. They can clearly define his personal preferences and so on.
It might not be glorious either. It might not be throngs banging down the digital door to provide Joe with the jewels he’s after. It might just be one person in the crowd, or connected to someone in it. But that one person, can change everything, and they’re not accessible through any other means.
You can see where this is going. Incredible, right?
A New Crowd Paradigm
Until recently, my perception of crowds was very pessimistic, based on the past. In many respects, these ways of looking at crowds originated from thinkers like Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931), the author of The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.
Here’s a good quote from Gustave to help us summarize his observations,
“A crowd is an assembly that possesses characteristics very different from the individuals from the crowd.”
This will always be true, but he goes on to say,
“By the mere fact that he forms part of an organised crowd, a man descends several rungs in the ladder of civilization. Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian – that is, a creature acting by instinct.”
To a degree, it’s hard to argue. Here in America, over the last decade alone we’ve seen the destructive nature of crowds on a regular basis. Frankly, they do possess the three distinct characteristics he points out:
Anonymity: An individual’s personal identity can be easily hidden amidst the throngs. Often, individuals will behave differently when in a crowd because of this fact, and the loss of their sense of moral responsibility – less fear of consequences.
Contagion: Crowds are hard to predict because they can be so easily swayed. Individuals get caught up, and bend like reeds in the wind, sacrificing their personal interest for the crowd.
Suggestibility: When in crowds individuals are so immersed and have lost their identity to such a degree, they become quasi-hypnotized – easily manipulated.
Physical crowds are still very much like this, as it’s ingrained in our psychology as humans. However, perhaps we’ve flipped the script, thanks to internet-based communication and the rise of digital crowds.
The Maturing of Social Networks
What does your digital crowd look like? For many, it’s a collection of social media networks and other properties like a blog with an audience. It’s also everyone you could group-text, so your contacts lists.
The characteristics of digital crowds are evolving, rapidly, but already possess very different and distinct characteristics from physical crowds. In the context we’re talking about, they’re an instantly accessible reservoir of real time groupthink.
Social networks are evolving too, but we’re on the cusp of everyone having access to this type of information….for the first time in known history. The individual, can at their whim, plug into a hyper-connected mind-web!
As entrepreneurs, this should rock your world. In light of that, let’s turn Gustav’s quote above on its head, like so,
“By the mere fact that we form part of an organized digital crowd, we ascend several rungs in the ladder of civilization. Connected, we may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, we are a super-mind – that is, a creature acting beyond instinct.”
One of the guys I work with swore off Facebook about two years ago. He had his reasons. His perception of his own crowd was horrid because his focus was on the platforms themselves, the brands, rather than the technology itself.
Then one day he was talking to his girlfriend, and wanted to know why she fell so hard, so fast. What caused her to be so resolute that they were meant to be together?
He said she instantly headed into the kitchen and grabbed her smartphone, walked over to him, and began showing him his Facebook timeline before he stopped posting. She had lots of specific examples and knew things he’d posted many years before, even memorizing little quotes he’d written.
She said her stepmother had done this before she did, and warned her not to, because she would without a doubt fall in love.
Step back and let that sink in.
Really see what’s happening, the transference of our humanity through digital content.
He said his jaw dropped, and in that instant, he saw the emerging power of the crowd beyond current associative names like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. The one big difference between him and many others I noticed when I looked for myself, is that he was absolutely transparent.
He didn’t post or project anything that wasn’t 100% him. You know?
He was one of those Facebook users who you could almost completely know through their posts. But that’s just Facebook. Crowds are condensing. Crowds are reaching their own singularities and in my opinion, 2018-2020 is when we’ll see digital mind-sharing explode in access and expression.
See beyond the current platforms, and look to where we’re headed. To reach the extraordinary, extraordinary risks are being taken!
Entrepreneurs: Begin Experimenting with Your Crowd
Stop seeing your crowd as merely customers. They’re much more than that, or can be. Stop seeing crowd-building as nothing but a marketing strategy. It’s far more than that.
Companies can now deliberately build their own mastermind, or hive-mind, rallied around brand stories!
It’s already happening, sure, but the dynamic’s changing. The larger the crowd, the more valuable in terms of not just revenue, but incredibly beneficial business decisions.
The Quirky Example
Heard of Quirky? It’s…
“The Largest Collaborative Invention Community In The World – Collaborate with others to bring your ideal to life. It’s fun, free, and you get paid!”
It’s a crowd for inventors. You can submit an idea, collaborate with the crowd to improve your idea or someone else’s, and then the inventions chosen by the crowd are manufactured by Quirky and everyone gets a slice.
Such a great model. I believe they’ve seen some success with a product partnership with GE, but as I understand it they’ve ended up with millions in inventory for a bunch of different products no one’s buying.
Known Crowd Limitations
Based on light research, and the limited amount of data on the types of crowds we’re talking about, here’s some challenges:
- Picking isn’t an ideal activity for the crowd.
- This is especially the case when there are few options without a clean winner.
- The technology needed to leverage this concept on individual level (meaning you own where your crowd exists, and all of your content you publish).
Then, of course, there’s the technology you’d need to decipher crowd-data. Like, let’s say you’re a brand owner and have built a sizable audience, or crowd, and want to begin leveraging modern crowd wisdom…
- You ask the crowd for their collective opinion on what to do about a certain business decision.
- You receive thousands of answers and replies.
- How do you extract it effectively and sort it?
This is all ongoing and developing, but, the tech-angle and experience design is where the Virtus Technology crowd fits in. We’d love to sit down and help push this forward; see if we can’t help if you’re tangled up in crowd-talk.
Feel free to leave a comment and weigh into the subject. What do you see coming down the pike for crowd wisdom?
Until next time,