TED Conversations

Raja Choudhury

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Does crowd-sourcing Innovation and ideas encourage real Innovation or a culture of collective mediocriity, focus groups and slick presenters

Being a closet libertarian in the mold of Ayn Rand's hero Howard Roark (yes, I studied Architecture as well), I can't help but fear the words crowd-sourcing, collective consciousness, etc. I spent many years designing websites and multimedia campaigns based on the feedback of focus groups and I can tell you nothing really creative came out of that. The most real innovation came out enlightened clients willing to take risks, innovative collaborations between a variety of disciplines and the leadership of talented designers and thinkers.The core ideas need innovators and then the crowd can participate in building. The original Freedom Tower at WTC was unique and amazing (Liebskind) but the new one looks just like another boring skyscraper anywhere. Why? The collective. Once a great idea is formulated and tested by an individual or small team funded by innovative funds then it can be spread by or further funded by or exploited by the Crowd. Anything else will be mediocre or just satisfying a perceived public demand. As Elsworth Toohey, the greatest advocate of collective consiousness in literature, says in the Fountainhead: "Artistic value is achieved collectively by each man subordinating himself to the standards of the majority. " - Ouch - this is not the world I want to live in. Thoughts?

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Closing Statement from Raja Choudhury

Platforms like TED, Edge, Kickstarter, Rockethub and Indiegogo are essential for sharing great ideas and drawing together collaborations and investments that may not have existed before. But someone or a small team has to have a great idea first and we must nurture the individual (introverted) designer/researcher/thinker/philosopher/author/scientist from an early age by also giving them a world where both the individual creative and the crowd can co-exist in a complementary way.

  • Jon Ho

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    Aug 22 2012: The simple answer is a resounding no. Basically, an individual working on his own has a totally different psychological dynamics from a crowd working on a group project.

    A crowd suffers from informational social influence aka social proof. Instead of thinking objectively on innovation and creative ideas, large crowds tend to conform to choices, eg herd behavior. Any attempt to be creative or innovative by an individual is automatically dispelled by that individual needs to conform to the group! If that individual somehow miraculously managed to quell his need to conform to the group and actually brought his idea forward, he will be pressured by his peer to disregard his creative ideas and conform to the group's idea of creativity, usually through humiliation and derision, or intimidation through ostracization.
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    Jul 23 2012: How many great scientific theories are attributed to a committee? Science is the cutting edge of inovation and revolutionary discoveries/ theories are almost always the work of a lone genius. The committee do the testing to try and disprove the theory.
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    Jul 22 2012: Nothing beautiful has ever been designed by a committee. The more personal your art, the more universal it is. Despite occasionally wanting to use the power of we, to solve problems, or at least kick some Toohey, and Boyle out of power, I have always thought that there are very few concepts that every individual can agree on.

    "I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine"

    My only fear personally, is that enjoying the company of others, may one day turn me into Eddie Willers... Hopelessly banging on some train in the middle of nowhere, trying to save a society that is completely incapable of saving itself.
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    Jul 22 2012: Hello Howard, you thoughts are a breathe of fresh air.

    As I recall only ONE place in the Fountain Head does Ellsworth state that his real motivation is POWER. Empirically the best way to acquire it is through the collective. The corollary of Ayn Rands thoughts on the collective is that anything good comes from the individual.

    From the first paragraph the whole idea of the collective is really a canard to allow the Tooheys of the world to seize power. The current Toohey is George Soros.

    You won't get a lot agreement on your sentiment on TED and they are busy with the "now we should s or now we are supposed to s" all coming from the top down.

    Current Howard Roarke s? Steve Jobs, Norman Borlaug, et.al. in that they don't follow demand they create demand, which is certainly not easy.
  • Aug 15 2012: Hi Raja

    I watched Susan Cain's idea today and found her points sensible indeed. She mentions that people develop deeper thoughts when in solitude (Aristotle, Gandhi etc). I find that group activity is important to get people engaged in the idea, somewhat a secondary step.

    I think it's very difficult to convey ideas/ visions etc in a collective manner. I think that the level of engagement decreases with the increased size of crowd and hence collective could be mediocre. I like what David said, 'trying to save society that is completely incapable of saving itself'.
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    Jul 31 2012: very good question, I usually say that Picasso didnt paint in group : ) . I also very often see a mediocre result out of certain groups because people do not want to to discuss with each other.
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    Jul 24 2012: Steven Johnson in his TED talk presents research to the effect that most innovation may not, in fact, typically come from the lone genius. That said, the perils of thinking as a committee, for example by brainstorming in unison, are well established and recently reiterated in Jonah Lehrer's latest best-seller about creativity. Brainstorming results in fewer creative ideas than the pooling of independent thoughts about a problem.
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      Jul 24 2012: Combining individual genius is definitely worthwile but I think it works best if you do individual work and then compare notes. A million monkeys typing just type a million times more nonsense :-)
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      Jul 24 2012: You must read Quiet by Susan Cain - she was on TED as well - has a great history of innovations and i inventions developed by introverted individuals away from the maddening crowd. I think that of course innovation can occur in groups - particularly groups of talented individuals from different specializations - and I also think that platforms like TED or EDGE are critical for making knowledge available to the widest number of potential innovators - but I think true brilliance does come from pottering away at an equation or a design or a problem by oneself or in small groups. Crowds are ideal for funding, sharing and marketing....