On the Horizon Report 2012: The Wisdom of the Crowds We Help Perpetuate (Part 3 of 3)

June 8, 2012

One of the most fascinating stories embedded in any New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report is how the reports themselves are produced: in a highly collaborative, asynchronous fashion using a well-facilitated technology tool—a wikias I’ve noted elsewhere. The process draws together colleagues from a variety of walks of life to produce something that none of them could individually ever hope to achieve. And if that somehow sounds familiar, it’s because the underpinnings of these interactions—so important for trainer-teacher-learners and others—is all around us in a variety of printed and online resources.

There is, for example, Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect, that wonderful book describing how magic happens when people from different backgrounds briefly come together—a group of merchant marines, for example, who share ideas in a Greek tavern before parting and disseminating the results of their conversations with others all over the world. This is one of the major underpinnings of the Horizon process as nearly 50 of us from all over the world gather via a well-facilitated wiki to contribute to Horizon Higher Education reports. Or 9,000 people gather at an American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) annual conference for several days, then spend bits of pieces of the following weeks continuing to build upon and spread what resulted from the planned and chance encounters.

James Surowiecki’s fascinating The Wisdom of Crowds provides an additional book-length report that reminds us time and time that when we start with a diverse enough group of the right people—no groupthink here, mind you—any of us as trainer-teacher-learners produce more reliable results than any single member of a group consistently produces. The archetypal crowdsourcing story here is the one about Francis Galton going to a county fair in 1906, watching people try to guess the weight of an ox, combining the nearly 800 different guesses submitted, and documenting that the mean of all those guesses was far more accurate than any individual’s guess had been—just one pound away from the actual weight of 1,198 pounds.

If we continue down this exploration of why these broad collaborative gatherings are so effective, we find ourselves in Clay Skirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, which builds upon The Wisdom of Crowds by exploring how collaboration produces magnificent—and highly accurate—resources like Wikipedia. And that, of course, brings us nearly full circle back to the wikis that are an integral part of the Horizon process.

Jonah Lehrer’s recently-released book Imagine: How Creativity Works adds a final dimension to our exploration of the creative process that produces Horizon reports and other worthwhile and inspirational results. Lehrer, among other things, documents how creativity is fostered by online projects such as InnoCentive, where experts apply their expertise to areas in which they don’t normally work and, by bringing an outsider’s point of view, solve problems that don’t come from those well-versed in the field in which the problem is embedded. It’s exactly the same sort of process that supports the work of communities of practice and allows Horizon Report Advisory Board members to come together in an intensively creative way to see elements of the world of training-teaching-learning that few of us would ever notice if we weren’t immersed in this collaborative endeavor.

There’s a deliberate attempt to avoid inbred thinking in the sort of collaboration fostered through the Horizon process: our New Media Consortium colleagues attempt to replace at least a third of the composition of the Horizon Report Advisory Board each year so a new flow of ideas is an integral part of the process. And in providing that model, they leave us with a thought-provoking and effective approach that we can and should easily be incorporating into our workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts: one that mixes experience with infusions of fresh ideas. Takes advantage of our resources. And engages the wisdom of the crowd to help us better serve as the effective facilitators of learning that so many of us strive to be.

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