Could Crowdsourcing Be Used To Create New Ideas Under Any Conditions? (Einstein)

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Here's a question: Imagine we're living 60 years ago, and Einstein never existed. Could a crowd have created Einstein's various theories about physics?

It's an interesting thought question because it gets to the issue, which is: Under what conditions will crowdsourcing actually end up with positive outcomes?

Answer: Crowdsourcing Doesn't Get Us "There"

Unless you subscribe to the notion that a thousand monkeys typing on a thousand keyboards for a thousand years could yield War and Peace, a crowd of any size lacking knowledge of physics isn't going to create something so complex. Obviously we can't know this for sure without actually trying it, but who has a thousand or two thousand years.

What could happen is that a large number of people, given some basic information, could suggest useful avenues of inquiry which, in the hands of physics experts, might be transformed in the the various theories Einstein postulated. So, while one could see crowdsourcing as useful for brainstorming possiblities, the specifics, or the product Einstein produced would likely go unpostulated. After all, problem solving requires both a process for solving a problem, PLUS the knowledge necessary to solve the problem. The crowd might develop something resembling a process to solve the problems Einstein attempted to solve, but could it ever yield the final detailed outcomes?


A Simpler Question On Crowdsourcing - Closer To Home

Consider this. Assuming you had to have sensitive neurosurgery, would you be most comfortable and best served by:

1. Having the surgery performed by the foremost neurosurgeon in the world, working with his expert surgical team.

2. Having the surgery performed by an average surgeon (not a brain surgeon), but guided by a "crowd" of several thousand people who provide the instructions for the neurosurgery.

3. Having the surgery performed by someone off the street, and again, guided by a "crowd" of thousands of people gathered at random.

If you have any shred of sanity, the answer is pretty clear, and I'm confident that you'd choose option 1. Why?

There's probably a lot of reasons, actually, why that option is likely to increase the chances you'll be on this planet after the surgery.

Because so many activities have to be undertaken by one individual, you want that specific individua, so far as it is possible,l to have all the skills and knowledge required to complete the task. The person with the surgical instruments holds your life, literally, in his or her hands, and while it's an interesting idea to have someone less expert, guided by the "crowd", you can imagine the logistical nightmare of somehow harnessing what the crowd might know into some actionable behaviors on the part of the surgeon.

That says a lot. You have a task critical to your life. You can't have that task delayed by having to source via the crowd. You want the expertise centralized in one place (the surgeon's brain + the support team), so it's instantly available during surgery.

So, Is A Performance Review That Different?

Is a performance review so different from neurosurgery that we would actually want to be appraised, evaluated, and decisions made based on the crowd?

Not me. What about you?


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Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992 by consultant and book author, Robert Bacal. Robert's books on performance management and reviews have been published by McGraw-Hill. He is available for consultation, training and keynote speaking on performance and management at work.


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