When Experts Are a Waste of Money

Vivek Wadhwa at the Wall Street Journal: “Corporations have always relied on industry analysts, management consultants and in-house gurus for advice on strategy and competitiveness. Since these experts understand the products, markets and industry trends, they also get paid the big bucks.
But what experts do is analyze historical trends, extrapolate forward on a linear basis and protect the status quo — their field of expertise. And technologies are not progressing linearly anymore; they are advancing exponentially. Technology is advancing so rapidly that listening to people who just have domain knowledge and vested interests will put a company on the fastest path to failure. Experts are no longer the right people to turn to; they are a waste of money.
Just as the processing power of our computers doubles every 18 months, with prices falling and devices becoming smaller, fields such as medicine, robotics, artificial intelligence and synthetic biology are seeing accelerated change. Competition now comes from the places you least expect it to. The health-care industry, for example, is about to be disrupted by advances in sensors and artificial intelligence; lodging and transportation, by mobile apps; communications, by Wi-Fi and the Internet; and manufacturing, by robotics and 3-D printing.
To see the competition coming and develop strategies for survival, companies now need armies of people, not experts. The best knowledge comes from employees, customers and outside observers who aren’t constrained by their expertise or personal agendas. It is they who can best identify the new opportunities. The collective insight of large numbers of individuals is superior because of the diversity of ideas and breadth of knowledge that they bring. Companies need to learn from people with different skills and backgrounds — not from those confined to a department.
When used properly, crowdsourcing can be the most effective, least expensive way of solving problems.
Crowdsourcing can be as simple as asking employees to submit ideas via email or via online discussion boards, or it can assemble cross-disciplinary groups to exchange ideas and brainstorm. Internet platforms such as Zoho Connect, IdeaScale and GroupTie can facilitate group ideation by providing the ability to pose questions to a large number of people and having them discuss responses with each other.
Many of the ideas proposed by the crowd as well as the discussions will seem outlandish — especially if anonymity is allowed on discussion forums. And companies will surely hear things they won’t like. But this is exactly the input and out-of-the-box thinking that they need in order to survive and thrive in this era of exponential technologies….
Another way of harnessing the power of the crowd is to hold incentive competitions. These can solve problems, foster innovation and even create industries — just as the first XPRIZE did. Sponsored by the Ansari family, it offered a prize of $10 million to any team that could build a spacecraft capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers above the earth’s surface, twice within two weeks. It was won by Burt Rutan in 2004, who launched a spacecraft called SpaceShipOne. Twenty-six teams, from seven countries, spent more than $100 million in competing. Since then, more than $1.5 billion has been invested in private space flight by companies such as Virgin Galactic, Armadillo Aerospace and Blue Origin, according to the XPRIZE Foundation….
Competitions needn’t be so grand. InnoCentive and HeroX, a spinoff from the XPRIZE Foundation, for example, allow prizes as small as a few thousand dollars for solving problems. A company or an individual can specify a problem and offer prizes for whoever comes up with the best idea to solve it. InnoCentive has already run thousands of public and inter-company competitions. The solutions they have crowdsourced have ranged from the development of biomarkers for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis disease to dual-purpose solar lights for African villages….”