Bridging the Echo Chamber

By Christian Buckley posted 07-03-2012 22:09


In his paper "The Social Origin of Good Ideas" (University of Chicago), Ronald Burt states:

"a dense social network of people in the same department (and who were therefore likely to be personally connected to one another) seemed to create an echo-chamber effect."

Burt goes on to discuss the idea of "bridging" networks -- the ability for some people within a company or a social network to move between networks, taking good ideas with them. Movement of these ideas across social networks, he found, predicted good ideas, where a lack of bridging (ideas that did not jump across social networks) predicted bad ideas.

"Even with the judicious use of social connections increases the proportion of good ideas, most ideas are still bad. It's not enough to find some way to increase the successful ideas. Some way needs to be found to tolerate the  bad ideas too."

I have written a number of times on the simple idea of increasing your sample size for more accurate data analysis, or in expanding your network to include people or ideas you are not as familiar with while at the same time improving the filters through which you consume data -- allowing you to experience ideas and perspectives that you would not otherwise experience in your limited, closed-off network. Which is what most of us do -- we limit our networks to what we already know, rather than look for ways to expand our networks to allow in the new.

Think about the crowdsourcing concept, whether for design (I'm a huge fan of or for raising venture capital ( You are able to go it alone, find a design or raise capital on your own -- or go to one of these sites and get a concentrated dose of attention on your idea or business.

In my own design experience, I had some very specific ideas about what I was looking for, and provided some simple sketches into the CrowdSpring site. As submissions started to roll in, however, my ideas for what I wanted changed dramatically. I was able to point to designs from participants, discussing what I liked and disliked about their designs, and tur4n it back out to the crowd to iterate. The end result was a design that was very different from my initial idea -- improved upon by the process, the dialogue.

Crowdsourcing allows people to interact and discuss their ideas, rating and ranking and refining them, improving upon those ideas. From a venture capital standpoint, the entire experience can be like a refiners fire, helping you to work through your elevator pitch and answer important questions about the viability of your business idea. With community feedback, bad ideas can morph into good ideas, or be proven -- once and for all -- that they are truly bad ideas. Instead of guesswork or speculation or the pain of trying and failing, all ideas will benefit from the experience of the crowd. It allows you to tap into the long tail of your network.

"The number of people who are willing to start something is smaller, much smaller, than the number of people who are willing to contribute once someone else starts something."

We need this kind of innovation crowdsourcing within our organizations, a way for people to generate more ideas and interact with others to refine, improve, advance good ideas. Agile development is a forerunner to innovation crowdsourcing, training organizations to move quickly in shorter iterations. We need to do more to extend these practices into management and information worker circles, and begin to reap the benefits of the long tail of our social connections. 

#crowdsourcing #socialmedia #Collaboration #socialcomputing #knowledgemanagement