It’s a very social web out there, and if you’re not using it to your full advantage, you’re only cheating yourself. This new medium is an opportunity to meet new people, with different skill sets, experience bases, and areas of expertise. But how can you take full advantage of all the wealth of information out there?
There are two concepts here to consider: the wisdom of crowds, and the importance of well-considered advice.
The Wisdom of Crowds
The first, the wisdom of crowds, refers to the concept raised by the author James Surowiecki. In a nutshell, the concept is that a crowd of people (not necessarily experts) is usually in aggregate just as wise as an expert. It’s kind of how google works, if you think about it. Enough people get it just right enough until everyone makes it work for everyone (Did you mean Surowiecki?)
Using services like google, technorati, memeorandum, slashdot, digg, and other aggregators saves you some time. It allows other people to do some of the heavy lifting on deciding if something is useful to someone else. Thus, YOU don’t have to search around endlessly to find a great resource to answer a question you have.
Use services like this whenever you need a good general “temperature taking” on an issue, as well as to research whether or not you’re the first person to ever consider making a website that lets you share Pez dispensers with your friends.
Personal Advisory Board
In your travels online, you occasionally come across people who are brilliant, and who have a finger on the pulse. You might even meet these people at events, and then strike up ongoing relationships with them through this online medium. Some of these folks will prove to be excellent resources for advice and sounding-board matters.
Just like all corporations have a Board of Directors and not just a lone wolf running around doing what he or she wants, everyone who becomes anyone has some mechanism to try new things and receive feedback. This can be as simple as a few buddies from school and your parents, or it can be that you find friendships with intelligent people who dovetail well with your interests, and who have opinions different than your own.
When you find these types, I recommend reaching out to them and asking if they’ll consider discussing new ideas and issues regularly. I find that the people motivated to do such things are usually motivated, moving forward, and interested in sharing what they know, as you are sharing what you know with them.
It occurred to me while writing this that occasionally you might accidentally invite someone into a small group like this and the new person might turn out to be a whiner and an energy drain. I advise coming up with a way to deal with that, formally or otherwise. I’m more for informal. I’d probably just thank everyone for their time, and not schedule anything formal again.
Venture capitalists and tech companies often use idea incubators to help flesh things out. To me, getting a few people together that have a piece of the business puzzle or the technology puzzle (or whatever relates to your venture), is an important variation on that theme. Growing an idea in private is difficult. Ideas grow best when watered by the minds of others. To extend this spontaneous gardening analogy, I should also say that good advisory boards help you weed, too. Often, cruddy ideas take root, and you might have trouble discerning the weeds from the plants. Advisors are usually able to be honest *and* still seem nice.
Try it Now
- Reach out to 3 or 4 people to form a personal advisory board. Ask.
- Set a weekly schedule to hold meetings/chats.
- Agree upon a basic agenda around your new ideas, your existing issues, etc.
- Use some kind of group software: IM, Skype, phone conference call, coffee shop.
- Keep Notes. What good is this if you just nod, understand it all, and then go to bed?
- Don’t hog the floor. Make sure everyone gets to share ideas.
- Look for synergies, but also consider stirring up the group occasionally.
- Dissolve, form, re-form. Be dynamic. Stagnation is the enemy, even on your board.
I’d love to hear how this works for you, if you give it a try. I’ll let you know how my test of this concept works.
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