On Crowdsourcing

Some stream-of-consciousness thinking before the sun comes up today.

I haven't given all that much thought to crowdsourcing, which may be odd given my line of work.  

I haven't given all that much thought to Louis CK, which may be odd given my age and comedic sensibility.

Screen shot 2011-12-16 at 6.56.44 AMI was listening to Louis CK on Bill Simmons' most excellent podcast, and without meaning to they touched on an interesting point about the wisdom of the many versus the wisdom of the few.

As I understand it, Louis has a very successful show on FX.  What's interesting about it is that the network has zero control over it.  They wire him $200K per episode, and from that he creates the entire thing (including taking out his salary).  

This autonomy is very rare.  It's also a relatively paltry sum for an actor as successful as Louis.

But the show is hit, and growing an audience with every episode.

So why is it working?

Louis' position is this (paraphrasing):

The more people involved in making decisions (particularly creative ones) the more watered down an idea gets.  In essence, consensus-building breeds mediocrity.  

By the time Bob from legal, Mary from finance, John from ad sales and Lisa from PR have all given their input, the essence of the idea is lost.  And this is nothing against Bob, Mary, John and Lisa - I'm sure they are good at what they do.  But they are not comedians. 

So you've hired an incredibly successful creative (in this case Louis) for his talent but essentially said to him, "we only trust your sensibility to a certain point."  

The disconnect is that by the time Bob, Mary, John and Lisa have stamped the idea, it's not Louis' sensibility any more.  So why hire him in the first place?

Bringing it back to my world, I do have to wonder out loud: Is the wisdom of the crowd all that wise, or is the real value that it make us (me, you, brands, agencies) feel safer about any given decision simply because it's based on consensus?  And as a result, are we breeding mediocrity?  What constitutes authority on any given topic - deep knowledge, a proven track record and passion?  Or simply a point-of-view, no matter how uniformed or unformed, and an Internet connection?

I genuinely don't know.

But I think of some of the great creative and marketing talents of our time, and how they would view the wisdom of the crowd.  Three immediately come to mind.  Clive Davis - he didn't do any market research before signing a scrawny young singer who eventually became Whitney Houston.  Steve Jobs once famously said, "It's really hard to design products by focus groups.  A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."  And finally, Alex Bogusky (always a polarizing character) - Crispin is (in)famous for retaining creative control over their clients' work.  And love or hate the agency, you can't deny they've had a pretty killer run.

That's all for now.