Monday, January 10, 2005

fyi Who's the Smartest of Them All? Social software uncovers the true experts


Pointer to article:,10801,98765,00.html

Kobielus kommentary:
I see two theories of “knowledge” implicit in this discussion:

• Knowledge sits in people’s heads and can be harvested
• Knowledge emerges from people’s interactions and can be conjured through structured collaboration environments

Both theories are right, to a degree. Knowledge is a personal stock that we each build, and a social force field in which we radiate. Sometimes, you don’t know what you know until somebody/something elicits it from you.

What I find most fascinating about this research (Bernardo Huberman of HP) is that it directly compares the knowledge-generation results of three corporate “financial knowledge assets” (my term): de facto (i.e., informal, self-selected, emergent) teams of quasi-experts, formal (i.e., official, other-selected, predesignated) teams of recognized experts, and “an expert financial software tool.” In Huberman’s study, the informal (intra-HP) quasi-expert team beat the formal expert team and the expert-system tool in the accuracy of its predictions.

I’m not claiming that these same results will hold in all studies (and I haven’t examined Huberman’s methods in any detail). But I’ve long noticed that teams of earnest, intelligent non-experts (in any given topic) can often collectively improvise a “good enough” strategy, whereas teams of squabbling “experts” often cancel each other out by obstinately and dogmatically quashing each others’ respective approaches. In teams that involve at least one “expert,” it often seems that those “experts” are trying to dictate approaches to others. In teams that have no such dictators, people improvise an approach that splits the differences among various promising approaches, and nobody tries to bulldoze an intellectual monoculture.

Huberman calls it the “power of the implicit” (i.e., the implicit stock of latent knowledge just waiting there in people’s heads). I call it the “power of the emergent” (i.e., the pent-up, results-oriented groupthink of people complementing each others’ strengths and neutralizing each others’ weaknesses).

How do you program self-effacement, results orientation, and humility into a social network?