If by the middle of the 20th century, science had become a systemic, hierarchically organized and complex activity with huge budgets, then exactly at this time the prerequisites for the formation of real expert communities in the modern sense began to take shape. It is primarily about the emergence of a new class of intellectual workers.
Back to 1950s, Peter Drucker described this phenomenon and introduced a concept of “knowledge worker” in the article, called “The Landmarks of Tomorrow”. The growing role of knowledge workers and the need for the community to carry out knowledge-related activities, Drucker explained by the following factors:
There is much more available knowledge and the main question is not how to find this knowledge, but it is about the new spheres where this knowledge can be used. This can only happen in a mode of interdisciplinary interaction;
Knowledge is faster than money, as the knowledge flow is almost impossible to limit, especially in the Internet era. This means that the knowledge flow precedes the money flow. At first, interdisciplinary interaction between workers happens and only after that money appear. Investment money.
The cost of acquiring new knowledge is reducing, as education, especially non-formal education, becomes more accessible.
The general availability of knowledge leads to an increase in the chances of a complete failure or unbelievable success of many endeavours in business since the variability in the use of knowledge in developing new products is growing;
The personal responsibility of employees for the level of their own competencies and knowledge is growing, which means that the activity of knowledge workers is increasing in acquiring new knowledge, matching them with the knowledge of other people. In order to understand what is going on, it is best to appeal to the potential of the professional community.
Almost all of Drucker's prophecies came true, in his ideas that we cited above, all the prerequisites explain the necessity of the expert communities emergence. However, Drucker could not even realise, how important the communities would be in the experts’ lives.
Why is it impossible to imagine the functioning and development of experts’ functioning without formal or non-formal community these days?
If you do not try to explain the growing role of expert communities by one economic, social or technological factor, then the following circumstances can be seen as the causes of this phenomenon:
More often customers ordering expertize, work with experts in project conditions. Projects end and experts look for new projects. Most often through friends or on recommendations. In the same way, highly qualified experts are most often searched for, and those who launch projects are recommended. Recommendations, acquaintance and personal trust - horizontal connections - became the basis of the marketing of expertise. A network of such horizontal connections forms a community.
Social networks and the Internet have squeezed space and time, now anyone can contact the authority in the industry and communicate directly. Social networks have become the fundamental basis for the formation and functioning of the expert communities. They launch expert trends, discuss new ideas, analyze the experience of using expert hypotheses. Social networks have become a place of authority recognition among experts, the dispelling of puffed experts, job search and just human support.
Event marketing made no less significant impact on the growing role of the expert communities. Almost everyone benefits from business events with “networking”: speakers sell their services, organizers earn money, visitors form their social capital (a network of colleagues) and learn something new. Regular visits to various industry exhibitions or conferences lead to the fact that visitors get to know each other and form strong collegial relations
A huge role in the formation of expert communities is played by the corporations themselves, which entered the war for talents (see the book “The War for Talents”). One of the methods they use is associated with the formation of something like external personnel reserves, by organizing hackathons, startup accelerators, popular science conferences, regular events, and other places where expert communities loyal to corporations are formed. Another method is the expansion of corporate experts in universities for the recruitment of promising students for client or partner organizations. As a result of such activities around corporations, loyal communities of future or former employees, partners, etc., are created that form horizontal ties (the most famous example here is the practice of working with novice McKinsey employees described in the book by Meister David “Managing a Professional Service Firm”);
Due to the innovative focus of high-tech industries, specialists spend more and more time on launching new areas and startups. Startups come and go, but the community of startups and developers of something new remains. Some start their own startups, while others participate in them.
However, the key reason for such hectic development of expert communities today became the innovation economy, which is orientated on the reducing the time for development and launch of products on the market. This economy depends on the experts who continuously expand their knowledge and turn it into a product. Investment cycle deadlines are also sharply reduced. Now, there is no need in attaching to the enterprises, projects or even technologies, all these go too fast, now you can rely on communities which will give an expert new projects, new knowledge, and members of a new team.
Here it is better to return to the question of how an expert differs from a professional.
Genuine expertise is impossible without the ability to navigate in the context of the application of certain professional knowledge. If a true professional is well versed in his subject area within a fairly stable framework - the framework of the profession and division of labour; then the expert, participating in the creation of something new, is forced to work in a constantly changing context, interact with other professional positions, open new professional functions and roles etc. It is due to this that an expert becomes an expert. In his subject area, he understands and understands much better than a professional. Therefore, the expert’s interactions with experts from other subject areas are so important. Due to interaction among themselves in projects, experts form new “molecules” of expertise, and a network of such “molecules” forms a network of the expert community.
In such a case, the expert network exists in a supersystem of professional labour division, precedes it and creates it.
Let me repeat once again: enterprises whose activities are related to expert knowledge (and most often professional services) have long ago understood the value of expert communities and are trying to form and manage expert communities loyal to themselves. A textbook example of this kind of organization of personnel work is the McKinsey company, which formed a loyal community of top managers and TNС specialists from their former employees (business analysts).
The key question which bothers the corporations - what motivates experts, why do authors of Wikipedia perform their great work completely for free, and at the same time making their product better? Why did the crypto-anarchist community also develop blockchain technology completely free of charge, having only their enthusiasm?
There are many pieces of research conducted on this and other topics. One of the most famous theories, which tries to give answers to these questions is a two-factor theory of motivation by Frederick Herzberg. However, it is the MIT scientists who gave an exhaustive answer in their famous research, according to which the main motivators for people engaged in intellectual work are:
The autonomy - people at work want to be independent and show initiative.
The mastery - people are thriving to mastery, which is not about the ability to solve some professional tasks, but more about the feeling, that this or that task, which people have to solve, are equal to them;
The aim - a person is motivated by involvement in solving global problems that go beyond his life.
Accordingly, these factors have to be encountered while forming or involving communities into this or that activities. However, as long as these values are fully realized in existing communities, the values of individual corporations are too narrow for experts, who work there. Therefore, expert communities are becoming the sources of new projects turning into corporations, and not vice versa. As an example, we can cite the crypto community and the many blockchain projects that arose in the bowels of crypto communities (and most blockchain projects bear the generic features of the community that generated them and, as an obligatory basis, presupposes a particular community). On the other hand, if a corporation wants to create a community around itself, it should offer potential members of the community the tools, content and values, that will allow the group of participants to function precisely as a community, and not as a multitude of individuals.
Life of an expert is full of dramatic conflicts, which define the specific character of their behaviour. One of them is connected to the experts’ constant offence on the consumers of their expertise, most of all on the entrepreneurs. The reasons for these offences are mainly two motives: the first - the expert is unhappy that the thing that he invests all his expertise in creating is reduced by those entrepreneurs to the heap of the banalities. You can easily imagine such an expert - it is he who always does not meet the deadlines, because he wants to implement the most beautiful architecture of the software core. These are the most difficult geeks in communication who always despise “all these managers and marketers”.
The second offence motive is usually associated with financial underestimation. An expert who creates unique user characteristics of business products or who makes a key contribution to the competitive advantages of a business and his (business) intellectual capital, comparing his salary with the company's income, believes that he is underpaid. Thus, he often ignores the contribution of other specialists to the commercial success of the company.
The most interesting thing is that, as scientists often say, they are busy satisfying their curiosity at the expense of others. In other words, the union of an expert with an entrepreneur is always based on two different motives: an entrepreneur wants to make money on an expert, an expert, first of all, wants to realize his professional dream at the expense of the entrepreneur, shifting all the risks to him. However, precisely on this contradiction, the development of commercial projects is based. The expert wants to realize all the most interesting features in the product and due to this constantly improves it. A businessman wants to make money on a product and therefore comes up with the best packaging for him, a promotion scheme, a business model, etc.
An expert has his own limitations in business - this is a mismatch between his ideas about a quality product and market needs. Therefore, an entrepreneur takes the risks of such a mismatch on himself. So an expert has a riska not to confirm the relevance of his ideas, and stay with the entrepreneur’s money (salary), the entrepreneur risks his money.
However, an entrepreneur also has important limitations. How many enchanting failures we know when an entrepreneur believes in proven products and business models and tries to cram an expert’s innovative technology in the Procrustean bed of an existing product on the market. How many great, disruptive technologies were missed by some entrepreneurs and made others rich.
Therefore, the transition of experts to the position of entrepreneurs is logical, because the expert, like no one else, understands the benefits of his inventions and ideas. However, experts are often convinced that the world is generally not properly organized. As no one wants to invest in their ideas. If there are many such experts, within their communities they are trying to build a perfect world, more friendly to their inventions. The more high-tech the modern world becomes, the more global investments are required for innovations, and the stronger new products are - not related to individual products, but to infrastructure ecosystems. Basically, it is possible to realize this only by the whole community acting as one. Entrepreneurs and investors will catch up. Once again, as an example of this kind of expert emancipation, we can mention the numerous blockchain projects and the crypto community that spawned them.
Even more obvious example of the emancipation of expert communities can be the community that creates products on the principles of open source. Their motive for emancipation remains the same - not making money, but creating a perfect and ideal product. Perhaps, it is the emancipation that is the answer to the eternal riddle of entrepreneurs - why people are ready to work so intensively and efficiently work for free?
Our text above may give the impression that communities can do anything. Unfortunately, no. As social researchers state, the experience of the same crypto-communities shows that the democracy that prevails in communities, in situations where decisions need to be made, quickly leads to a way too slow reaction to the unexpected surprises. While the participants agree on something in the framework of democratic processes, their ship may already sail. In general, in an organization, in long investment projects, in high-tech production with a high level of division of labour, where coordination, timing, deadlines, and so on, play a huge role, centralized systems win. That’s because they can hold the long process of creating a product, unlike a community that cannot exist without the quick, short, obvious to all participants results of their own activities.
The content of the community’s activities should be fairly flat, without going into details and specialization for each of its participants, because only through a general idea of what is happening, the community will be as one and can understand what is happening. In complexly organized activities with a high level of division of labour, this is basically impossible, but systemic unity is achieved through a managing superstructure that sees this whole. Therefore, communities can exist at the level of only one topic, which ultimately gives the experts certain expertise in this topic.
Translated by: Dmytro Basok