American scientist Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, annunciated a simple principle. No matter the enterprise for which you work, the smartest people in your field work for someone else. Joy’s Law is a profound assertion. For any enterprise, it means that the greatest relevant expertise resides outside its boundaries, and the main challenge for those charged with innovation is to find ways to find and leverage that third-party expertise. This talent resides everywhere – in universities, in a coder’s apartment in Berlin, and even right next door. Individually, finding that expertise may be impossible in any given discipline. By contrast, an open platform with hundreds of thousands of community members (i.e. experts) allows enterprises to tackle even the most complex problems. This is sometimes known as “crowdsourcing”.
Leveraging talent through the wisdom of the crowds is not a new concept. During the early 1400s, Florence’s Wool Merchant Guild issued no fewer than five (5) lucrative contests related to the construction of Santa Maria del Fiore (il Duomo). See Ross King, Brunelleschi’s Dome (Walker & Company 2000). The Guild realized at least one critical trait of contests to which we will return later — the need to granularize them in order to attract the finest artisans in each respective trade needed for different parts of the church — masons, carpenters, engineers, and sculptors, among others. These contests often overlapped in a grand project to build the world’s largest dome.
Modern contests are equally ambitious. Scientists use the global expertise that an open platform brings to bear in order to position every solar panel on the International Space Station (“ISS”) to maximize power collection within specific parameters. Harvard Medical School uses platform-based global expertise to solve complex genomics projects.
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