Joy’s law is the principle that “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”.
Bill Joy, the computer engineer to whom it’s attributed argued that if you rely solely on your own employees, you’ll never solve all your customers’ needs.
It’s a quote that’s never been more true.
Joy was not talking about the hackneyed “war for talent” trope. Even if you somehow manage to get the best and the brightest to work for you, there will always be an infinite number of other, smarter people employed by others.
Even if it was possible – these days we don’t need to employ those people. We live in a networked age – and having people who can master ‘distributed problem solving’ and collaborate at scale – will be a differentiator for organisations.
This week I was in Wales speaking at an event organised by the Good Practice Exchange – all about effective collaboration using technology.
Harnessing the power of collective thinking is one of the most effective ways to maximise innovation output. The more minds, brain power and insight you can gather, the better.
It’s recognised that CEOs with connections to diverse social environments built of people from a variety of backgrounds can create more value for the organisations they lead. In today’s digital economy this knowledge exchange is open to any of us – IF we stay clear of echo chambers and embrace genuine diversity. (That means, not blocking people who disagree with you.)
Social media gives you access to people who behave and think differently. Used wisely it can encourage people to break out of your own sector. By actively following people you don’t agree with your people will become less prone to groupthink.
If you’re only surrounding your people with those who think like them – you are limiting your companies capacity and capability for innovation.
Groupthink – “a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures” – historically only happened to small groups.
Hashtags have changed all that.
In a society in which social networks consume so much of our time we have evolved into a mass version of groupthink. A herd mentality of a scale we’ve never previously encountered.
It’s time for us all to really consider the role of diversity in our social media content. The algorithm is deliberately feeding you more of what you want to hear.
This diversity can be advantageous: research suggests that employees with a diverse Twitter network—one that exposes them to people and ideas they don’t already know—tend to generate better ideas.
This research differentiated between idea scouts and connectors.
An idea scout is someone who looks outside the organisation to bring in new ideas, using Twitter as a gateway to solution options.
An idea connector, meanwhile, is someone who can assimilate the external ideas and find opportunities within the organisation to implement these new concepts.
In the research, Twitter users who performed the two roles at the same time were the most innovative.
That’s easier said than done, we often find that people who are great at making connections and opportunities aren’t the best ones at matching them to strategy and implementing.
A good innovation team plays this role – acting as a pressure chamber where external influences can enter the organisation, in a controlled and measured way.
Social media will help your people crowdsource opinion from others. I often find myself thinking out loud- this blog is essentially a brain diary to see if what I’m thinking connects with others. Learning out loud in our networks helps to seek new opinions and share our own with a wider group. It allows us to take half-baked ideas and test them out in public, with low risk.
Just soaking up other people’s opinions doesn’t lead to innovation though. Rather – it’s the ability of employees to identify, assimilate and exploit new ideas to create new value. This is where our organisations need to put more effort and support in for people – it’s hardly ever talked about, much less taught.
The smartest people will never work for you. We need to create a network of as many great contributors as we can–and transform it into a community.
So many of us , right around the world , are working on solving exactly the same problems. To address these complex problems our organisations must be reshaped for a community where ideas and information flow openly and transparently.
The real opportunities lie right at the heart of it.