Why crowds and networks are smarter than most companies

Since the advent of the internet, the power of the crowd has been foremost in the changing society.

We have leaderless collaborations, such as Wikipedia; we have organised social movements like Get Up! that have emerged to challenge government and organisations; and we can share knowledge in whole new ways that help us grow personally and professionally.

Steve Johnson’s Future Perfect book is a fascinating insight into this “peer progressivism”. Johnson even suggests that if we have a problem, create a peer network to solve it. It makes perfect sense in the networked world we live in. His decentralisation theory to solve problems is not necessarily a new thought.

Johnson suggests that participatory networking could give power back to citizens who can confront their own neighbourhood issues, including local budgets. His ideal is a world that reduces the role of government substantially. Of course the local councillors and governments are going to be reluctant to hand over control, but with the advent of social networking, the weaker groups (citizens) can learn how to organise and refuse the tight controls of a nanny state.

For a small business owner, the power of networking and collaboration has never been more important. With small budgets and tight time constraints, creating a networked environment to assist and share skills with other small business owners is a supportive and natural environment to grow business in.

It can be likened to having 100 colleagues from a small office in a garage or bedroom (though not quite as cramped!). This type of social networking decentralisation has become a norm for many small businesses.

However, the controls used by larger organisations struggle in the face of a Johnson-centric view of the world: business and colleague collaboration faces strict and unnecessary controls that are being burst at the seams with the rise of the social adept networked worker.

Whilst decentralisation doesn’t always mean organisation nor a continuum, for example Occupy Wall Street, but when you put the old-fashioned principles behind the “peer progressivism” you get results, for example Get Up!, AYCC, Flying Solo, Open Forum and so on.

Meet Up brings a centralised organisation view to bring like-minded decentralised groups together to network. The success of groups such as those found on Meet Up demonstrates a natural way of social networking and collaborating that brings a collision of old business principles together with the new.

In Johnson’s view, his ideal is to take this concept and push it to a point where governments are reduced to city street managers, and citizens are pushed up the social hierarchy to gather to share and vote on ideas, ideals and policies.

Regardless, even if Johnson’s world came about, there would be leaders and influencers who would emerge to lead the pack and this is where his theory fails for me.

The advent of social media teaches us there are a few who create most of the content that many consume. Whilst there is a huge volume of banal content online, there are also the leaders, the thinkers and the smart people that are useful to tap into.

For a small business owner, this is new lifeblood for their business development; for large organisations, it is a new norm that they need to address, as the crowd is smarter than the organisation.

Footnote: Russ Henneberry from Social Media Examiner provides a great step-by-step guide for reaching out to influencers and networks of all types here.

Fi Bendall is the managing director of digital and interactive consultancy company Bendalls Group. With over 20 years’ experience, Bendall has worked with global brands including BBC and Virgin, and is an expert in how businesses can approach strategy in the digital world. You can follow her on Twitter at @FiBendall, and can contact her through Bendalls Group.




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