Crowd Accelerated Innovation

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Chris Anderson:

"Crowd Accelerated Innovation requires three ingredients: a crowd, light, and desire. Let’s take each in turn.

A crowd.

A crowd is simply a community, any group of people with a shared interest. It can be narrow (unicycling, Greek archaeology) or broad (science, world peace), small (my village) or large (humanity). The community needs to contain at least a few people capable of innovation. But not everyone in the community need be.

There are plenty of other necessary roles:

  • The trend-spotter, who finds a promising innovation early.
  • The evangelist, who passionately makes the case for idea X or person Y.
  • The superspreader, who broadcasts innovations to a larger group.
  • The skeptic, who keeps the conversation honest.
  • General participants, who show up, comment honestly, and learn.

Different people may occupy these various roles at different times, including that of innovator. Innovation is a response to a particular set of challenges or inspirations. Every mind is unique. Presented with the right fine-tuned pattern of incoming stimulation, I suspect, most people have a shot at coming up with something wonderfully new and fresh. But even if not, they can still play any of the other key roles.


All members of the community need to be visible; each needs to be aware of what others, particularly the most talented members, are up to. If the community is the university alumni association, the fact that one member has the world’s most breathtaking idea matters not if it never makes it into the annual newsletter.

Nor is it any good to look out on a sea of faces in a sports stadium and think that you and your fellow fans will innovate together. Individual contributions have to be known so that they can be built upon. Visibility doesn’t have to mean literal face-to-face contact. Any form of connection may do the trick. Tweeting counts. But the nature of the visibility—the brightness of the light—will help determine how fast Crowd Accelerated Innovation can take place.


Active learning is hard work. And in most cases, what drives all that work, whether we will admit it or not, is the prospect of recognition for what we’ve done. Have you ever checked the viewing figures on a blog post you wrote? Watched to see if anyone would reply to a comment you posted? Gotten excited by an award or an exam result? Or felt a thrill when your boss looked you in the eye and said, “Awesome job”?

Then you know the power of recognition—we crave it. It’s a fundamental desire. Every community has its own means for granting special status to some of its members, formal or informal. For basketball, there’s the Hall of Fame. For the group of dancers on a street corner, the hot one gets the admiring looks and the best date. Our desire for recognition fuels our performance.

Now the more powerful each of the above elements is, the more Crowd Accelerated Innovation you get. Think of each element as a dial on a giant flywheel. Turn any of the dials clockwise and the wheel speeds up—and online video has cranked up all three dials." (


Why It Is Important

Chris Anderson:

"I believe that the arrival of free online video may turn out to be just as significant a media development as the arrival of print. It is creating new global communities, granting their members both the means and the motivation to step up their skills and broaden their imaginations. It is unleashing an unprecedented wave of innovation in thousands of different disciplines: some trivial, some niche in the extreme, some central to solving humanity’s problems. In short, it is boosting the net sum of global talent. It is helping the world get smarter." (

Leveraging the 'dials' for more acceleration

Chris Anderson:

"Dial 1: Work the Crowd

Communities have exploded in size. The dancers on the corner suddenly find themselves part of a global dance community. Cake making is no longer the purview of the village fete but a skill that, when captured on video, can be viewed by tens of thousands of salivating aficionados. Scientists, architects, historians, conservationists, musicians … all are linking up globally in a way unimaginable only a few years ago. Just as significantly, communities have formed that could scarcely have existed before. There are thousands of examples, from impossibly ambitious Rube Goldberg machine creators to crazily creative makeup artists.

Of course, the size of the community isn’t the only thing that will determine its pace of learning. But it is hugely important. Out of 100 people, maybe fewer than half a dozen are likely to innovate … and their best ideas will come along only every few years. Progress will be slow. Yet if the community is a million people across the world, 10,000 times as many individuals are competing for their moment of greatness. What is more, each of them is exposed to a much wider variety of stimulation. And then … we have liftoff.

History shows that when communities fall below a certain critical mass, technological progress slows and may go into reverse. The original Tasmanians, limited by the size of their island, never grew beyond a population of a few thousand. Isolated from other cultures, over the centuries they lost many of the technologies they had arrived with. Without the crowd and contact, the learning died. By contrast, the world’s slums, with their vast populations crammed together, often harbor astonishing levels of invention.

When it comes to innovation, size matters. And online video has given every community global reach."

Dial 2: Shed More Light

Perhaps the most miraculous element of online video is that, for the first time in history, it’s possible to assemble a crowd of people numbering in the millions and give every single member a chance to be seen and heard. Admittedly, it’s likely that not a single person besides your mother will view your video. But if the clip is remarkable in some way, a community trend-spotter may just take a shine to it, IM the link to their buddy the evangelist, who writes a rave comment, which is read by a superspreader, who tweets it to their 10,000 followers… and suddenly, you’re on your way.

Equally miraculously, you can log onto the web day or night and take a look at the output of countless community members formerly known as strangers. In picking which ones to view, you will be aided by recommendations, viewing numbers, ratings, and much more. It’s surprisingly easy to sift through the chaff for the wheat. In short order, your sense of possibility will be expanded.

Dial 3: Fuel Our Desire

For most of history, the vast majority of people spent their lives toiling in isolated silos. Their families and drinking buddies occasionally acknowledged their talent, but beyond that, not so much. Suddenly, in the past five years or so, no matter how specialized your area of work, it has the potential to be seen and acknowledged by a substantial global audience. The day you log on and see that a video you posted went viral and is being written about with awe by tens of thousands of people? It just might change your life.

I am certain these tiny little metrics—mere blurry numbers on a computer screen—wield immense power. Because it’s not just you who’s seeing them, it’s everyone else, too. They know. And you know that they know. This is all part of a fundamental engine of human motivation. Status, self-esteem, reputation—you may, I suspect, be willing to burn hours for their promise.

I think the motivation is there whether or not the recognition leads to anything tangible." (


The improvement of dancing techniques

Chris Anderson (TED):

"At last year’s Academy Awards, in front of a global audience of millions, a new troupe, the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, or LXD, performed a jaw-dropping number. It was, many thought, the best part of the whole spectacle. The dancers were electric, exciting, and altogether unprecedented: Their routine of tricks and moves was hitherto unknown to dance.

Several of the dancers were self-taught. Or more precisely, Internet-taught. And they had been recruited by a filmmaker, Jon M. Chu, in part because of their YouTube reputations.

Chu formed the LXD based on a simple revelation: Because of the web, specifically online video, dance was evolving in Internet time. A series of challenge videos by rival groups of street dancers had created an upward spiral of invention as they strove to outdo one another. The best videos were attracting tens of thousands of views. Much more than pride was at stake. Chu knew something weird was happening when he saw a YouTube video of Anjelo Baligad, a 6-year-old boy from Hawaii who had all of the moves of a professional.

In fact, he wasn’t as good as a professional—he was better. This tyke, known as Lil Demon, was demonstrating tricks few adult dancers could pull off. If 6-year-olds could do this now, Chu imagined, what was dance going to look like in 10 years? As he remarked at last February’s TED conference, where the LXD gave a breathtaking performance: “Dancers have created a whole global laboratory for dance. Kids in Japan are taking moves from a YouTube video created in Detroit, building on it within days and releasing a new video, while teenagers in California are taking the Japanese video and remixing it to create a whole new dance style in itself. This is happening every day. And from these bedrooms and living rooms and garages with cheap webcams come the world’s great dancers of tomorrow.” (