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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

Why You Must Learn to Think Like a Polymath

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Crowdsourcing is perhaps the most striking demonstration of the distance-shrinking power of the Web and cloud computing. Several quotes leapt out of my recent podcast interview with crowdsourcer CrowdFlower's CEO Lukas Biewald:

"[T]he advantage ... is that you have a totally scalable workforce."

"[T]he transaction cost for connecting with the perfect person to do your job is getting really low."

"I think this distributed work trend is a huge trend. It's going to change the world."

Disruptive new phenomena like this are a huge competitive threat to the conventional structures of work and business. Last year, I described the economics of crowdsourcing as scary. That blog post cited 'content farm' Demand Media, which crowdsources how-to articles and videos and is currently preparing an IPO at a $1.5 billion valuation, according to the FT.

To harness these disruptive forces, you need to be able to master several distinct skills and disciplines. Crowdsourcing combines the ability to set up and manage automated work requests, a level of comfort with remote or mobile working, an understanding of reputation systems and familiarity with the concept of business-process-as-a-service (BPaaS).

In a word, you need to be a polymath, as described in my Enterprise Irregular blogging colleague Vinnie Mirchandani's recently published business book, The New Polymath: Profiles in Compound-Technology Innovations. This cites many examples, from both established and emerging companies, of how business innovation today is often rooted in bringing together different technology trends and capabilities to find new competitive opportunities, and is especially relevant to readers of this blog who work with cloud and social computing.

I'm therefore delighted that Vinnie will be speaking at an event in London on Thursday this week, hosted by EuroCloud UK [of which I'm chair — see disclosure]. I'm looking forward to welcoming him along with fellow ebizQ blogger Joe McKendrick, who plans to drop by as he's in town this week. If any ebizQ readers would like to join us, there are some free guest registrations available if you register online by 6pm UK time today — it's also free to EuroCloud UK members and to guests of the event sponsor, FinancialForce.com, another company that's cited in Vinnie's book.


Couldn't agree more. As we continue to build our company, the rate at which we must mentally switch and merge discussions of what once were quite separate disciplines into a single stream is thrilling! Coming of solving real customer problems with all available technologies, new disciplines (or macro-disciplines?) are born. A fairly recent example would be the combination of Social Media and CRM, to form Social CRM. (Although it's name may morph into something else before we're all done.)

What you're talking about is being "buzzword compliant", not being a polymath. A polymath would have extensive competency in fields outside of IT.

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

Phil Wainewright specializes in on-demand services View more

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