Once upon a time, when hand to hand combat was the norm and eating vegetables a sign of poverty, people believed that there was no such thing as a black swan. That was until Cygnus atratus was discovered by the English naturalist John Latham in 1790.
In 2007 Nassim Nicholas Taleb published Black Swan – The Impact of the Highly Improbable in which he expounded his Black Swan Theory on how random events are much more common than we think, have huge impact, are impossible to predict and yet we spend huge amounts of time (which could be better spent) trying to rationalise them.
It is this process of attempted rationalisation that is most damaging. Drowning in an overflowing and ever increasing sea of information and data, individuals and organisations spend so much time trying to second-guess what might happen and what the affects might be that they become glued to the past and present rather than being able to adapt and deal with the future.
Taleb advocates “stochastic tinkering” as a method of scientific discovery rather than research which is dictated by top down thinking. This non-determinist approach fits well with the virtual business solution. Starting with a question, which might not be the correct one, the participants in a virtual event or virtual communication space can use provided content and information to begin their own collaborative process, where randomisation can be embraced and included in the process without the fear that this will result in a poor (or the predicted ‘wrong’) outcome.
In his paper The Social Origins of Good Ideas, Ronald Burt from the University of Chicago looks at the behaviour of employees and how their networks affect the generation of new ideas and how often they are applied.
Two key trends appeared from his study: that ideas generated from within a particular department were rejected more often, being seen as too insular; and that people who’s network spanned individuals across departments and organisations were more likely to come up with good ideas.
Neither of these results should be particularly surprising, but it’s good to see them qualified in an academic study. Water cooler conversations that take place between colleagues from across an organisation enable indivudals to put a different perspective on a situation, giving examples of how something has been done elsewhere or simply to say ‘have you thought of doing it this way’.
Burton summarises the study in his paper:
People whose networks span structural holes have early access to diverse, often contradictory, information and interpretations which gives them a good competitive advantage in delivering good ideas. People connected to groups beyond their own can expect to find themselves delivering valuable ideas, seeming to be gifted with creativity. This is not creativity born of deep intellectual ability. It is creativity as an import-export business. An idea mundane in one group can be a valuable insight in another.
Some of this explains the explosive growth of social networking. With 25% of all internet pages visited being to one of the top 10 networking sites and 9% of all internet visits going in the same direction, our insatiable need to connect with others is going somewhere to being satisfied.
The next step is to move this networking into a truly collaborative environment, where conversations can take place between many in a virtual space that crosses geographic and language boundaries.
Ten years ago this was just a figment of our imagination, today, thanks to some very clever folk, it’s a reality.
Masai. Ona. Inuit. Chibcha. Iroquois. Gurage. Aborigine. Are these the names that come to mind when you think of a tribe?
Anthropologists use the term to refer to societies organised largely on the basis of kinship and more recently commentators are using it to explain the phenomenal growth of social networking.
As human beings we are pre-programmed to belong. We like being part of a crowd. There is comfort in concensus. It’s good to know that we are not alone.
What new technology has given us is the ability to ‘multi-tribe’. To connect not only with our current work colleagues, but with ones that have moved on but retained an interest in the same area as us, and with peers who face similar challenges to us in their day-to-day working lives. It enables us to join forces with others who share our passion for a cause, or a sports team or a particular entertainer.
What drives the tribe are the leaders and the creators, the individuals who are prepared to step out from the crowd to declare their interest and their point of view. In business these are the people who make or spot a trend and are willing to make the first move. If they have read the signs well they will be followed by the early adopters who will begin to create the groundswell that will altimately draw in the crowds.
The question is… Are you a leader, someone who is driving the agenda, manoeuvring your message and your marketing strategy to attract clients and customers to your tribe? Or are you one of the crowd?
I know which one I would rather be.
… or bringing up the rear?
If you don’t spot the innovation coming you can pretty much guarantee that you have missed the big growth curve. But that might be OK for you, if you are happy just riding along on the end of the wave. It’s not as exciting though is it?
And if you are producing the same events, magazines and marketing you were 10 years ago, clinging onto an old business model that is still delivering the goods (just) you are definitely stuck.
Stuck in the mud. Stuck in a rut. Stuck in a working pattern that is ignoring the fundamental shift in business practices that is happening all around you if you would only stop and look and listen.
And changing it is. So fundamentally and radically that in five years time the media landscape will be unrecognisable. LinkedIn and Facebook, and other networking sites, will be the new broadcast media pushing groups of likeminded, engaged and empowered communities to their own networks; instant online solutions will deliver knowledge sharing and collaboration across national and cultural boundaries. It will be a very small world indeed.
So where will you be? At the forefront of this global revolution or sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone to tell you what to do, or worse sitting there because everything your business is built on today simply vanished overnight?
One of the greatest benefits of the internet is arguably the ability for many to comment and get involved in the development of a project. Finding out the will of the people via crowdsourcing offers a whole new aspect to marketing.
Yet who can forget the film Snakes on a Plane the plot and screenplay for which was developed with the input of fans online. Ridiculous, absurd and juvenile as it undoubtedly was, it nevertheless found a following because so many people fel that they owned a small bit of it.
The downside of the internet is that it has offered unlimited anonimity to many, and while you may think you are talking to your target audience, what’s to say that it isn’t your closest competitor mobilising its workforce, friends and family to give a completely false impression so that you head off in the wrong direction.
Finance directors may rub their hands with glee at the thought of getting a logo designed by crowdsourcing for a fraction of the cost of using a creative agency, but would this approach have delivered anything as iconic as the Virgin or Nike brands? By bending to the will of the many will it extinguish the edgy, risky brilliance of the few? And who does not know that anguish of trying to deliver an event where the process is ruled by the command of a committee?
hellen @ missioncontrol