Admit you don’t know it all, go on. Then, open the floor to the wisdom of others. You might be surprised at what you learn and how it can help your business.
During a dumbstruck moment before a crowd, I learned an important lesson: sharing makes us smarter. I was delivering a keynote address at the SME Tech Summit, an event that’s co-sponsored by Nett magazine. After my 4300 words of explanation, exploration, and challenge, I threw the floor open for questions.
The first question was easy enough and quickly answered. The second question concerned the use of social media in corporate training. While I work with professional educators all the time, the world of corporate training exists entirely outside that sphere.
I knew nothing about it. In a rare moment for me, my mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. I was flummoxed.
Since I didn’t answer the question, a number of hands shot up around the room. I thought they were more questions but, as the microphone moved from upraised hand to upraised hand, it was answered that were provided. I took notes from the podium – I was learning something, too. By the time four people had responded, everyone in the room knew a lot more about corporate training and social media.
“When you don’t know the answer, share the question – that’s the essence of ‘crowdsourcing’, the sharing behavior that drives sites such as Wikipedia”
That moment taught me something I should have long known: when you don’t know the answer, share the question. That’s the essence of ‘crowdsourcing’, the sharing behavior that drives sites such as Wikipedia. Crowdsourcing relies on the fact that all of us are smarter than any one of us and, if we’re clever about it, we can share our smarts in ways that benefit us all.
Offices and labs have been crowdsourced for decades. When you gather enough smart people in close proximity, they begin to share knowledge and everyone gets smarter.
These days, organizations might use a wiki – a website anyone can edit – to facilitate crowdsourcing. Proximity is no longer required. Anyone can drop in from anywhere to contribute or learn.
In order for crowdsourcing to excel, some humility is required. No one can ever hope to know everything and we need to acknowledge that in our professional practice.
The pitfall of standing on a podium, or being at the top of the corporate ladder, is that it’s assumed you know all the answers. Everyone looks up for guidance, for direction, for answers. If those answers aren’t forthcoming and if, instead, you find yourself flummoxed, there’s only one solution: share the question. What you learn, as a forest of hands rises in response, might surprise you.
There is more knowledge within our organizations than any one of us could ever hope to know. It shouldn’t take a catastrophe to bring that hidden knowledge out.
When we build systems to support collective intelligence and make sharing a vital part of the culture of our organization, we need not worry about being on stage, all alone and clueless. All around us, we have bright minds eager to contribute, if only we relax and humble ourselves enough to see the obvious – sharing makes us smarter. #