Anti-Social Media

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Andy Rutledge has a fantastic rant about anti-social media. It's always refreshing to find people that don't believe the hype.

Mediocrity is the only possible result of a wide sampling of opinion or input. The only idea that can survive such a mechanism is one consistent with the lowest common denominator. The mob works to ensure that all other results are weeded out. Now, we might think that it is the highest common denominator that is promoted in this environment, but it's just not so. The "highest" anything is largely held by the masses as being discriminatory and elitist. So only the lowest common denominator wins out. The point is that in this sort of environment excellence does not survive.

Excellence is not the sum of opinions. Excellence is not born of consensus. Excellence is by its very nature something far outside the average. In fact, not even good is found in the average. Average is comfortable. Average requires no great effort. Average requires nothing exceptional. Average anything is…, well, just mediocre.

Think about great ideas. Not good ideas or decent ideas, but great ideas. Where do they come from? Do they come from the masses? Do they come from consensus? No, they come from individuals. The masses are not out there generating a stream of great ideas. Great ideas come from singular, exceptional sparks of inspiration and deep or intuitive understanding, and they come from uncomfortable processes. The mob dislikes depth. The mob dislikes discomfort.

One of the early ideas in The Business Experiment was to split up the work in what we called "microchunking." David Gibbons was actually the first person I ever heard use the word, and at the time, we didn't use it to mean small chunks of content, but rather, small amounts of work. The plan devised by the executive team was to set up a system that allowed tasks to be posted. Users could then pick a task and break it down into subtasks, posting those for others to pick up and break down further, until eventually something was done at a low level and it worked it's way back up the hierarchy. It was an excellent idea, but we missed something major – work is done in context.

The problem was that, unless all users were working with the same set of assumptions and within the same context, or unless the work was one of those rare tasks that was independent of context, there was no cohesion to the workflow. The way I would break up the goal of "write a marketing plan" and the way you would do it are probably very different.

I throw this out there as an example of why crowd based creation usually results in mediocrity. But, as we have seen throughout history, rarely do people think they are mediocre. The crowd wants mediocrity to be seen as excellence so that they can feel good about themselves without having to do any hard work. To truly understand something requires some depth – some level of study.

I'm not anti-amateur, I'm just anti-mediocrity. Yes, low barriers to entry allow us to find the diamonds in the rough – the excellent writers and thinkers who otherwise would not have a publishing platform. Unfortunately, it also means we have to put up with a million yahoos who think they know way more than they do. Years ago I heard a minister say "if anyone tells you they have all the answers, run the other way." That's why I steer clear of Web2.0 pundits.

  • Leigh Hunt

    Think about great ideas. Not good ideas or decent ideas, but great ideas. Where do they come from? Do they come from the masses? Do they come from consensus? No, they come from individuals

    I agree but execution is critical to get Great Ideas to work.

  • HankP

    And yet the paradox is: why are markets, which are by definition statistical summaries of consensus opinion, so good at determining value and predicting future events?