Clustering has long been a popular route to build a critical mass of skills and whole industries have grown up via this route, going back to the Industrial Revolution in 18th Century England. Today we have digital clusters: Silicon Valley built around the innovation coming out of Stanford University, Bangalore established as a hotbed of IT development and more recently technology communities built around Cambridge University and now East London. These are incredibly vibrant places, bringing together like-minded people from around the world to share ideas and create new businesses. There is a real sense of “like attracts like” in these communities and an immense desire by many people to go there and get involved.
At the same time however, we can now take projects and put them on the web for experts from all around the world to work on. I was recently exploring how to tap into data analysis skills for a specific project. What struck me was how straightforward it now is to place a problem like this online and have individual, highly-skilled experts from all over our planet solve it for me. Far from being a physical cluster of like-minded people, these crowdsourced models let me easily access unconnected experts living thousands of miles apart and working remotely. If we look at work simplistically as a supply and demand for labour, here is a model where supply can easily find demand and vice versa. Surely that is a route to remove inefficiencies in worldwide skills mismatches?
Well, in my view, Yes and No. Certain types of work lend themselves well to unconnected individuals working in relative isolation to solve a problem, particularly where technology can facilitate the connectivity between talent and task. Over time, I’ve no doubt these crowdsourcing models will grow as we find more ways to package up problems to allow them to be remotely solved. However, many other forms of work either thrive from or depend on people coming together. Physical proximity allows for an easy exchange of ideas and expertise. Put plainly, nothing can replace human interaction and the innovation that springs from face-to-face conversation and problem-solving. A friend of mine running his own research business finds that even having his staff work in adjacent buildings presents barriers to the flow of ideas, so is now looking for ways to bring them even closer together.
So yes, the way we work will continue to change and that surely will help us tap into the skills we need in new ways. However, humans are social animals above all else. That spells a very bright future for the cluster model as creative talent builds real, physical communities. What unites both approaches though is the ever-present need to find the right talent when you need it, whether it’s in the cloud or in a crowd. You just need to know where to look.
Reference by Allstair Cox.comments powered by Disqus