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99.99% of the smartest people don’t work for your brand

99.99% of the smartest people don't work for your brand


99.99% of the smartest people don’t work for your brand


Bill Joy, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, framed the principle that “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”. It became known as Joy’s Law.

The implications are profound, especially as Joy was not talking about the old “war for talent” trope. Even if you get the best and the brightest to work for you, there will always be an infinite number of other, smarter people employed by others.

What Joy was referring to is a singular definition of smart as “referring to capability but not willingness to work for someone”. He was arguing for tapping networks of smart non-employees for innovation and problem-solving horsepower. As he explained: “It’s better to create an ecology that gets all the world’s smartest people toiling in your garden for your goals.”

But there are a few challenges with this provocative thinking. The reason most companies were created in the first place was to hire people, put them in an office or factory, and give them tasks, roles and responsibilities – with everything and everybody under one roof. The ongoing arguments about turning up in the office everyday versus remote working are a legacy of this thinking.

The second challenge is this: no manager or recruiter can really admit she or he can’t hire the smartest and best people in the world. And there is the third challenge: most of the world’s ‘smartest’ people don’t have the right credentials for you, and are not even in the right country or did not go to the right university. They’re not available. They might already have a job. As a result, it is a challenge for any business to find ways to access that knowledge.

Embracing this new reality means creating a new frame of reference. Having a ‘walled garden’ approach is a mindset of the past, not 2019. The view that ‘we can do this ourselves with our own resources’ is based on fantasy, not fact.

Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are two examples of what is defined as ‘distributed problem solving’ – and they are growing exponentially. They are not just for scrappy startups or cash-poor, idea-rich entrepreneurs. Lego used Indiegogo to create, test and launch a premium product for adults, for example,

READ MORE: How Coca-Cola, Lego and Gillette tapped into the wisdom of crowds

And crowdsourcing is not just for product development or research. Online expertise marketplaces such as Kaggle and Innocentive enable brands to put their unsolved problems, for example a data science problem, out to the crowd to address.

As marketers, we are on the frontline of this ‘expertise being outside the organisation’ challenge. We are used to having a network of agencies and experts to advise us. We don’t believe (in most cases!) that we are the experts on copywriting or creating television advertisements. The implications of this notion are pretty profound:

• Marketing is the part of the business that already knows how to harness world-class external expertise without having to have that talent permanently on payroll.
• Marketers believe in tapping into the power of people outside the organisation is the way to accomplish things.
• Marketers are already quite open to the idea of having teams working on your problem instead of hiring one person.
• Marketers know how to collaborate and create processes that are open to the smart contributions of people outside our corporate firewalls.
• Marketers are used to setting deadlines that incentivise creative breakthroughs much more quickly.

You can argue that many of these implications do not apply to our colleagues in HR, finance or IT. If you have ever had to explain why you need to hire an agency to a non-marketer, you will understand!

Given that marketing teams are on the frontline of understanding how to create a network of great contributors, perhaps marketing can rise up to the challenge of harnessing Joy’s Law for our brand and company’s benefit. Here are three suggestions to help your firm seee opportunity that comes with understanding that not everything can be done within your four walls:

  1. Explain that actively seeking ideas, insights and inspiration from wherever they reside – rather than just in the organisation – is in marketing’s DNA.
  2. Study how innovation ecosystems have been created and see how can you tap into them. For example, Shenzhen, China is now the go-to city for businesses building robots, drones, smart sensors, and wearable technology, with hundreds of factories capable of turning around product batches from prototypes in a few days.
  3. Actively look for opportunities in your brand to test how you could build in co-creation with users and suppliers using crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.


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