WPP Atticus Under 30 Submission


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WPP Atticus Under 30 Submission

  1. 1. David BenBassett Experience Strategist, RTC Collective Knowledge. Crowdsourcing our Expertise. "The time when it was possible to be universally well-informed is past. The ideal of an 'all-round' education is out of date; it has been destroyed by the progress of knowledge."-------Bertrand Russell 1928 Knowledge is a complex concept in philosophy. The quote to the left, which questions whether we can obtain both breadth and depth of knowledge, implies that what we know about the world is increasing too fast for any one person to keep up. I disagree. With technology and the desire to share, we create what I call “collective knowledge”, the aggregate knowledge of all people. By leveraging the expertise of others, we can become informed on almost any topic whenever we feel the need. Even in the 1920s I believe it was possible to be universally informed, however I do not think Russell and his peers were prepared for it. The mindset was wrong; it was not efficient to try and understand everything. Industrial developments from the early 1900’s were still moving the world forward rapidly and for over a century, economists preached specialization: develop your inherent talents then figure out how to pair those skills with someone else’s. The problem is that specialization constrains knowledge transfer to within a specific industry, primarily to gain economies of scale. The philosophy mutes the benefits of expanding communication channels to leverage the wealth of human information more broadly. Thus, technology, while improving, was mainly used to build products that brought everyday convenience not for connectivity and conversation. Eighty-six years later, the level of knowledge and information in the world continues to increase exponentially. As technology advanced so has humanity’s bank of knowledge to the point where, some might make the case that Russell’s philosophy is as true, if not more so, than ever before. From personal computers, to instant messaging, to social media and smartphones, humanity as a whole is learning more and more in real time. For the first time in history, everyone can be a creator of knowledge and that knowledge can be made public in an instant. Technology has broken down temporal, distance, and language barriers. People can discover something, have it questioned, discuss it with the other side of the globe, and advance the discovery, all in a matter of seconds. How then, amidst a constant state of flux, could anyone be well rounded or universally informed? How could anyone disagree with Russell? Let me explain. The growing power of technology and its seamless integration into our lives, means that it is time for the definition of “informed” to change. I truly believe that a person can be well informed simply because they have the thoughts and opinions of the entire world at their fingertips. As technology continues to transform into an extension of ourselves, it is becoming less necessary for us to be individually knowledgeable. We are moving towards an age of
  2. 2. science fiction where we have all the knowledge we could want, or, alternatively, the means to ask new questions, sitting in our pocket. Soon it will be common practice to be wearing computers all over our body and that technology will make us more aware of our selves and surroundings than ever before. We will be able to understand languages we cannot speak1, find places we have never been, laugh with people we have not seen in years, all without even breaking a stride. At a certain point, it is going to become difficult to draw the line between ourselves and our technology. We are connected. We are connected to that “collective knowledge”, and when we need new information we simply need to draw on the crowd for guidance. Individuals and organizations, we are not limited by what we have been taught or what we have experienced. At any time we can crowdsource the experience we need and use that knowledge to move ourselves forward. So how is this any different than specialization? While technically we are still trading our knowledge with each other, this is the first time we can access it with such immediacy, for free. The information is just waiting, ready to be integrated and adapted and put to use in new ways. The people who are truly universally informed are the ones who are skilled at doing just that. If you can tap into that collective knowledge, understand it, and reshape it to suit your needs, you can be well rounded. Forbes2 recently featured an article on a new specialty based on this practice, and I have become somewhat enamored with it. Meet the Generalist. These types possess the well-rounded training Russell doubts, and that gives them some foundational insight into different skillsets and expertise. They may be better at some then others, but they know where and how to search for information, allowing them to choose the knowledge they need at any given time. This is not the jack-of-all-trades that is traditionally looked down upon; this is a new breed that leverages technology and their peers to bring unique perspectives to environments dominated traditionally by experts. The Generalist is the archetype that defies Bertrand Russell’s assertion and they are becoming more and more prevalent. Each new generation (including the one writing this paper) is growing up with an affinity for using technology that is almost second nature. Unlike during Russell’s time, information technology is being universally recognized for its range of applications and everyday practicality. Now it’s even being integrated into classrooms, familiarizing us early on with the variety of ways being connected can enhance our lives. Bertrand Russell was not wrong, based on his own limited knowledge; the world has come along way since 1928. But we live in an era of connectivity that he could not imagine in his wildest dreams and as we continue to change, so must the meanings of characteristics like “knowledgeable” and “informed”. Though we remain constrained by what we are physically capable of perceiving, we are no longer limited by our own individual experience. Technology has made it so that together, we can be universally well informed. 1 http://dthin.gs/1aqRrH6 2 http://onforb.es/1aoQwqN