Last year, when Steve Rubel looked into the figures from Compete.com and realised that Facebook is driving more traffic to news portals than Google is, it appeared that we were witnessing the beginning of a trend, not the end of one.
Since that time, there has been a lot of hype and discussion about Facebook’s 500 million members. Some claim it’s a landmark and that Facebook will just continue to swallow the internet whole. In fact, for some people that I know, Facebook IS their entire experience of the world wide web.
This seems to be confirmed by the following graph from Compete.com which shows the traffic trends for Google and Facebook seem to be converging. Or more precisely, Google is dipping down and Facebook is ascending.
Now, I have written about this as a phenomenon before. Social judgement not only happens online – it has been happening in every social interaction since the dawn of time. But increasingly it seems, we are relying on who-we-know to know what we know. This sounds great in theory – smart people filtering, curating and sharing their knowledge and expertise – bringing order to the chaos of abundant information.
But I wonder …
Are we limiting the gene pool of our ideas?
Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From reminds is that innovation, invention – or what he calls “the slow hunch” – require the time and space to collide with other ideas. (HT to Chris Noble for the video.)
What if social networks reach a certain point and then begin to shrink? What if the noise to signal ratio becomes so large that we begin to partition ourselves and our interactions to those of “like mind”. Steven Johnson says “Chance favours the connected mind” – which I love. But what if those ideas swim around in ever shrinking ponds starved of oxygen by the blue-green algae of group think?
I don’t know about you, but this is not the internet I want to play in. It’s not the internet that I want to do business in.
Get out of your internet comfort zone
Years ago when I ran a creative team, I used to regularly drag them away from their desks to visit cultural spaces. We’d go to the Museum of Contemporary Art. We’d catch buses or trains. We’d experience the day-in-the-life of everyone else. I saw it as fuelling their creativity, and it worked.
It worked because it reminded people to be social. To be social in their experience and in the work. It brought a social connection and a context to their creativity. It’s part of what I am calling “The Social Way”.
But now I feel we need to increasingly push ourselves outside of our internet comfort zones. We need to click those links randomly. We need to visit, search and read sites that are outside our narrow focused expertise.
What are we looking for? Our next great idea. I’m hoping to collide with one today.
4 thoughts on “Ideas, Innovation and the Danger of Networked Group Thinking”
Gavin…I so agree with you on the limited idea pool. I think that personalising your own incoming media stream around only your interests, your “like-minded” friends and your value sets is an enormous blow to diversity, tolerance and broadmindedness. The best part of my day is STILL reading the newspaper …yes…the print version….because occasionally I get an update on sport …something I don’t actively follow in my online habits but which are important to be across in my social relationships at work!
It’s a very good point. As I say in this blog post http://hughgarry.typepad.com/hugh_garry/2011/02/become-an-explorer.html “browsing isn’t enough. To discover new world you need to become an explorer.
If you enjoyed ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ you may also like Keith Sawyer’s ‘Group Genius’ which touches on group think.
I agree completely on the need to go outside comfort zones from time to time.
I like magazines for this, actually, though random links can be faster. I picked up one for people who modify their trucks and it was waaay out of my usual interests. By having the articles and ads and letters all together I got more of a feel for the culture. Of course, it would have been better if I’d gone to a show or some such, but that usually breaches my level of too difficult (with family, etc.).
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