The best and brightest minds in your industry don’t work for you. Well, some might, maybe one, but the vast majority do not. This leaves you two options: one, attempt to identify, locate, and hire them — a time-consuming and expensive proposition, assuming they are for hire — or two, work with them to incubate and develop ideas within your industry for free.
Some companies, Ideo for example, based their business model on employing the best and brightest minds. It’s a good model if you can identify them, afford them, and, most importantly, they are interested in being hired. Many may not be. Many may not even be industry professionals at all. A doctor, for example, may be an innovative photographer on the side. She is not interested in leaving her job, but she’d love to talk to you about photography. She’s an enthusiast, not a professional. Does this make her contribution any less great? Of course not.
Innocentive is an organization based online which carries the tag-line, "where the world innovates". They consist of over 160,000 individual innovators. Some are professionals, some are hobbyists; Innocentive doesn’t care. What matters are the results. Clients come to Innocentive when their internal R&D needs help. They post real world R&D problems to Innocentive’s website and get results from all the people you didn’t, wouldn’t, or couldn’t hire directly. Innocentive’s strategy is to facilitate the connection between problems and a world full of solutions. They utilize Linus Torvalds theory "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow", and it works.
Pretend for a moment you could actually attempt to employ all the best minds in your industry. All the best minds might not be looking for a job. Even if we pretend they are, in reality you probably wouldn’t hire them. They might not have a decade of experience. They might not have a doctorate or even attended college. They might not dress the part, walk the walk, or talk the talk. They might not [insert qualification here] but, in social media, none of that matters. Gone are race, gender, pedigree, and qualification. What remains is simply the quality of your ideas and your work. Lead in thought and you are a thought leader.
In February of 2006, for instance, Netflix had the idea to hold a contest with a $1 million grand prize. The goal: improve on it’s movie recommendation engine by 10%. Netflix supplied the data, contestants supplied the algorithms. To date there are 49552 contestants on 40738 teams from 184 different countries from which Netflix has received 41756 valid submissions. What do you think it would take to actually assemble and organize a research team that big? A lot. Which is why Netflix thinks $1 million for that kind of improvement would be a bargain. On June 27th, 2009 the winning algorithm was posted to the Netflix leader board and the winner was not just one team. Multiple individuals formed teams and two of the leading teams organized themselves into the winning team. With no influence other than the goal and the prize these individuals took it upon themselves to organize themselves and best Netflix’s professionally generated algorithm by more than 10%.
So what does this mean to you? A lot. The next great idea will most likely not come from within your organization, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of it. You need to be a part of the community, the collective, and the next great idea. Remember, social media is about passion . Enthusiasts are enthusiasts because they love what they do. They love it, and you share their passion. You must, or you would not be in the industry. You must, or you must admit there is a better alternative to you. Someone with passion.
The individuals who participate in social media love it so much they want to share their love by collaborating with others who also share their passion. They enjoy the work so much that they dedicate their free time to pushing harder and further into it generating ideas that further your industry. The best answers lead to better questions, and these are the people who come up with both the problems and the solutions. These are the people you should be working with. These are the people you should be talking to. These are the people utilizing social media to connect to one another.