The Innovation Filter Bubble
Here is a must-watch video from Eli Pariser discussing some of the themes from his new book The Filter Bubble (reviewed well here by Cory Doctorow). It’s only nine minutes, and it is well worth your time:
Pariser’s main point is that the primary filters on the internet these days are algorithmic, and that these filters have a strong tendency to only expose you to viewpoints that reinforce whatever you currently think.
This is very important for how we use the internet, but it also has huge implications for innovation as well. I think that many of us work inside of an innovation filter bubble, and that this makes it much harder for us to innovate.
What is an innovation filter bubble? It is all of the habits and routines that prevent us from being exposed to novel ideas and new points of view. Some of these include:
- The internet filters that Pariser discusses: much of our information comes from the web these days, and as he shows in the talk, this can lead to only running across viewpoints that reinforce our own.
- Who we spend time with: do you always eat lunch with the same people? Or alone? Spending time with people that you know well is great (and we often don’t do enough of this), but at the same time, we usually spend time with these people because they think a lot like us.
- Silos within our organizations: is where you work organized by specialty? Most organizations are. This has benefits in that it makes it easier to find the information that is most relevant to our jobs more easily. Still, this is another form of filtering that reinforces current views.
The end result of the filtering that occurs through these routines is that the information that we are exposed to can become too restricted. As Pariser argues, these filters make it easy to find information that is relevant to the task at hand – and that is what makes them useful. But does access to information that is highly relevant to the task at hand help innovation? Probably not.
Innovation is based on connecting ideas in novel and interesting ways. To do this, we need to run across information that is more than just relevant. We also need information that is important, uncomfortable, challenging, and that reflects other points of view.
We have to make a conscious effort to break out of our innovation filter bubble.
How can we do this? Here are some ideas:
- Actively seek out new and different viewpoints: Ethan Zuckerman has some great ideas about how to do this on the internet. But also do it in your day to day activities. Once a week have lunch or a coffee with someone with a completely different background, area of expertise, or view of life. Go out and find those challenging ideas somewhere.
- Use filters based on expertise instead of algorithms: as I’ve discussed before, there are at least five forms of filtering. The algorithmic filters are more efficient, but they fall prey to the problems outlined by Pariser. Make better use of expertise-based filters. You can do this by accessing people with expertise in different areas, and also by building broad networks and activating them to help you generate new ideas. Algorithms are great, but you still need some people-based filtering as well.
- Encourage enhanced serendipity: this is an idea from Ross Dawson, and it’s also discussed in The Power of Pull. It involves building your networks (both online and personal) to maximize your exposure to new ideas and novel viewpoints. One of my personal rules in this area is that on twitter I always follow people that follow me if they come from outside of Australia, North America or Europe. And I follow nearly all of the people that run into from Europe too. This is one way to run across new viewpoints.
In order to innovate we have to generate new connections between ideas. We can’t do this if all of our routines only expose us to viewpoints that are very similar to our own.
To innovate more effectively, we have to break out of the innovation filter bubble.
Tim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.
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