Creativity is to crowds as friends are to Facebook

Mon, Feb 15, 2010

Blogs, Fearless Creativity

Creativity is to crowds as friends are to Facebook

“I don’t know art but I know what I like.” – while this might be true, I’ll have to insist that Townes Van Zandt is still a much better song writer than Barry Manilow regardless of record sales.  Perhaps Mr. Manilow would agree albeit with the possible disclaimer: “hey, I’m a POP writer” – to be clear, POP means popular, not better.

If popular doesn’t always mean better, then where does this leave our crowd of great insight that’s so fashionably sourced?

Unified by cause, used as a lever to move culture or triggered to loot property, crowds are not as smart as James Surowiecki’s book title of 2004 – The Wisdom of Crowds – suggests. While the title is a great marketing gimmick, James Surowiecki’s text stands on firmer ground if one bothers to read it. NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen advocates true north in his Public Notebook blog post giving tips to Crowd Wisdom Debunkers:

“Consulting the source code for the idea, we find that crowds are not inherently wise at all. Rather, they are wise when…. there’s a right answer to the question, when the question isn’t a matter of taste or cultural quality, when there is diversity of opinion and independence of mind among group members, when there are specialists who can draw on local knowledge, and when there’s ‘a way of summarizing people’s opinions into one collective verdict.’  Also, crowds can be blind and stupid, and there’s no point in denying that.”

Phraseology such as the genius of crowds, imagination of crowds, or the brilliance of crowds probably won’t appear in our popular lexicon, sarcasm or marketing notwithstanding. What we often feel however, is the power of crowds or the brilliance of individuals leading a collective.

In the association game tradition: creativity is to crowds as friends are to Facebook. In both cases the subject is reduced by the object, but the value is in the spirit of a relationship and excellence of the individual.

Creativity, imagination and brilliance are the province of individuals not crowds. The innovation of crowdsourcing is rooted in mechanisms of targeted broadcast designed for their profitable reach into communities. Without these mechanisms, crowdsourcing’s pinnacle achievement would most likely remain Fox Network’s American Idol.

No longer sitting in a cubicle, the sourced operate a virtual conveyor and swank independence gained over salary lost, yet there is no brilliance or authentic creativity growth. The growth is found but only in the bottom line of agencies and companies who do the sourcing.

To be sourced from a crowd is to be a 21st century line worker.  Creativity’s financial margin moved up and away from the supplier whose left singing, “Could it be Magic”.

OK then … I guess it’s time to get back down to the work of brilliance and move away from POP creativity since it now belongs to the crowd.

6 Responses to “Creativity is to crowds as friends are to Facebook”

  1. James Says:

    Hi Bruce,

    Good, thoughtful post on creativity, tools of production and organization and their effects on the people involved.

    I like the construction ‘creativity is to crowds as friends are to Facebook’ for its catchiness but I think you’re being hugely reductive in your judgement.

    As a company that helps ad agencies and buyers of creative services do the sourcing, I can see every day in action that the process of crowdsourcing is what people make of it. Just like communicating with friends of Facebook. Just like any business and creative relationship.

    To some ad agencies and buyers, crowdsourcing is a low-cost source for talent. They want volume, they want speed, they want production — they can get it. They get out of crowdsourcing what they put into it.

    To other ad agencies and buyers, crowdsourcing is a way to find new talent, to explore new ideas and to connect with a diversity of sources and perspectives.

    This is the sustainable vision I want to pursue, where the connections of the web allow the right people to find each other, supported by the right tools, generating great creative work.

    Just like Facebook has become a key way for people to meet who end up married, crowdsourcing can provide the connections for great, lasting creative relationships.

    We’re working to make that happen on AdHack. I’d love to hear your feedback on the how we’re doing.

  2. Bruce DeBoer Says:

    James – it’s entirely possible that I’ve shortchanged crowdsourcing. I guess I’m waiting for brilliance and haven’t seen it yet. I’ll definitely check out AdHack though.

    The more I think about it, the more the relationship holds up. The more one puts into Facebook the more they get out of it but in the end it’s the excellence of a relationship that wins.

    In the end isn’t it the thinking that makes a difference? Brilliance comes from individuals but projects are complex and require collaboration, so if the individuals don’t share a relationship it will fall short. It’s the same reason virtual agencies didn’t fulfill their promise; you can farm out the pieces but if you can’t collaborate it’ll take too long if it works at all.

    I’m taking a wild guess here but it’s my expectation that crowdsourcing will never be the go to solution unless the trade-off is price. I’m fully prepared to be dead wrong on that one however.

  3. Rasmus Says:

    My immediate thought was that the opposite of ‘Crowd Wisdom’ is the much older and more widely used term ‘mob mentality’. What you’re pointing out is essentially, if I read it right, that too many cooks spoil the broth. I agree to a certain extent. Too many hands means too many compromises, possibly resulting in a more easily sold product, but usually at the cost of creativity.

    But I am left with the question: when is a ‘crowd’ too big? It’s common for creatives to work together in small teams for example, often with highly creative results.

    In my experience, the creativity begins to suffer around the 6-8 people mark, which is a tiny number compared to typical crowdsourcing concepts. But my experience is just that, my own.

    • Bruce DeBoer Says:

      Good question – another friend of mine commented on a previous post that complex projects benefit from small teams – the smaller the better. I think if we look to music we may find the answer. How big can a band get before improvisation gets out of control. We need improv desperately from band members but if they aren’t in synch it can be messy. I’m not sure there is a definite answer the how large is too large.

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