What’s Better – Crowd Sourcing or Expert Sourcing?

What’s Better – Crowd Sourcing or Expert Sourcing?

With the rise of social networking and collaboration technology there is growing interest in ‘Crowd Sourcing’. Wikipedia is a classic example where we have witnessed a dramatic shift of power from the experts to the ‘crowd’. According to numerous studies, the percentage of errors on the Wikipedia site is far lower than that of other Encyclopedia sites written by experts. We see the trend where ‘crowd’ generated solution that is not only pertinent but lot cheaper than the expert generated solution. Is expert advice irrelevant in this new collaborative age? Will it be a pass√© to get an expert advice? Are million heads better than one?

Not necessarily, here are couple of examples which shows that experts still have a powerful impact.

  1. Malcolm Gladwell in the book ‘Blink’ talks about the Herman Miller, Inc. which hired an expert designer to design a new office chair. The designer came up with a radically unique design that was extremely ergonomic as well as comfortable, but the reception for this chair by the ‘crowd’ was downright chilly. None of the test customers wanted to sit on it. How that chair became the best selling, a must have $900 chair is another story, but the point is: this radically different looking chair could not have been designed by the crowd.
  2. Heath Brothers in their book ‘Made to Stick’ talk about a study where a group of people were asked to solve the car parking problem. Their solutions were OK but failed to suggest some of the ideas that were radically different. Their ideas were mostly improvement to existing ideas. When the ‘car parking’ experts were asked to solve the problem, their solutions were far smarter than those generated by the crowd.

Both the above mentioned books talk about many researches, tests and surveys that point to the fact that non-experts or ‘crowd’ in general fail to think radically different. To think ‘out side of the box’ we need experts. Bottom line is if the idea is evolutionary, then crowd sourcing is just fine. If the idea is revolutionary then expert sourcing is a must.

So, experts are still needed. But, what collaborative technology has done is break the myth of who the expert is. In today’s world expertise no longer belong to an ‘exclusive’ domain of people who hang around the universities or ‘think tanks’ . Expertise cannot be gained only by attending/teaching at certain prestigious colleges, publishing paper in certain journals or making the circuits at typical media circles. Collaborative technology is reducing the economic barrier to find experts in unique and unexpected places.

Experts who live in the ‘ivory tower’ will be surprised to find innovative solutions will be presented at a much faster rate from the people who are in the trenches. They not only possess hands on knowledge on solving the problem, but the technology has provided them a platform to broadcast their views globally.