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Crowd-sourcing develops wisdom. It doesn’t find answers

I dream of sunrise by Indy Kethdy via Flickr
I dream of sunrise by Indy Kethdy via Flickr

Zeitgeist of our age

As I dillied-dallied this morning, putting off the moment when I bury myself in an Excel spreadsheet, I pondered the bizarre experience of academics, like myself, teaching management in a classroom, and checked out the twitter chatter on the new crowd sourcing website being offered by government.

Crowd-sourcing is here

People seem willing to consult the populace online but don’t know what to make of the responses they get back.  There was even a spirited interchanged between a Gen Y blogger, whom I follow, and a Gen X geek, whom I also follow.  The Gen Yer was telling the Gen X to take down all his comments and get behind her drum. Hmm . . .

Someone even challenged Nick Clegg on the workability of crowd-sourced consultation. Hat-tip to @DT for this audioboo from Mark Hilary.

We want answers so that we don’t have to engage

I couldn’t quite hear Nick Clegg’s answer but the dilemma seems clear.

People are looking for answers so they can say that’s done – don’t have to talk (to you) any more.

Engagement is ongoing, messy and never ending

Engagement is ongoing – more people, more complexity, rising understanding, defined initiatives in context of a conversation.

Social psychologist, Karl E Weick provides the basic framework for understanding engagement & leadership

I don’t want to turn this into an advert for my own work but by chance, or rather because, I tried to write a plain English a few days ago, I can point you to what Weick wrote in the aftermath of 9/11 – what constitutes leadership when the world shifts abruptly beneath our feet?

What does it take to lead a community when the issues are so widespread that we must get everyone involved to be able to move forward together?

Karl E Weick is a a notoriously difficult read and I am not sure that I simplified his work sufficiently.  So let me have another go here.

  • Basically, the country has moved from the flight-fight reaction to the financial crisis, the initial startle and anger response.
  • We can give this coalition government its due in that they have moved us through the bargaining stage and to a thinking-it out stage (hopefully by-passing depression).

We are in the over-complicating stage of collectively re-thinking our world views

Weick points out that in this stage, our discussion becomes more complicated.  Indeed it becomes overly-complicated.

Over-complication is a process of looking at a problem from many perspectives

But this process of over-complication helps us understand the social context in which we frame initiatives and make small experiments in our own lives.

We gain a deep and wide appreciation of the context, or in other words, the issues as the appear from the perspectives of many people who are different to us.

Wide consultation provides the backdrop for wisdom and judgment

The context provides the backdrop for wisdom and judgment.

With this backdrop, we can take tentative steps in our own lives and in areas of our own responsibility to move forward.

The principle of self-organization and emergence apply

The leaders won’t decide for us.  We will decide just as a flock of birds decides.

  • We fly in roughly the same direction as everyone else.
  • We fly at roughly the same speed as everyone else.
  • We keep a respectable “stopping distance” so we don’t bash into each other.
  • And when the bird “on point” (the leader in human-speak), gets tired, it falls back and someone else flies point.

And note, to know where to go, the bird on point is using an exquisite sense of where the birds behind it are going.  Like all good leaders, it finds out where its followers are going so it can follow them.

So how will crowd-sourcing online help us?

  • We will not get behind one leader and follow them through predefined cause.
  • It will be messy.
  • We will use some technology to vote issues up and down and to cluster through tags.
  • some of us with an academic/journalistic bent will trawl through the data and look for themese.

But it will be messy and the gains go to anyone who is bothered to listen.

The Special Advisors are going to earn their keep reading all the threads and summarizing them. That is their traditional role isn’t it?  That’s what they are taught at uni, isn’t it?

To discern the common threads and brief their principals.

People who have rallied behind one particular cause, like the legitimate marijuana crowd in the States, will be noted.  They will stand out.  But that is not what this is about. This is a listening exercise. This is a develop nuances exercise.  This is involve people who normally would stay quiet exercise.

The essence of crowd-sourcing

This is a an exercise in developing a common appreciation of where we are going together, so we can fly like a flock of birds to where we need to go without bashing into each other, and without assuming any one of us has super-human powers to understand where we are going.

Leaders get people involved.  Leaders get people to listen.  Our common sense of who and what we are will emerge from that process – special interests and all.

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