We believe crowdsourced knowledge can be useful for two reasons ONLY.
- Ascertaining general knowledge on a topic with which you’re unfamiliar. An example is changing a tire on a car. If you’ve never changed a tire on a car and you either ignore the instruction manual in the glove compartment or don’t have one (you can download it online in most cases), then crowd-sourcing other people’s experiences with changing tires can be useful to the extent that you’ll learn special tips or come to understand the general concepts: jack, bolts, tire pressure, etc.
- Obtaining referrals to experts. After learning of other people’s experiences with changing a tire, you may decide there’s too much at stake—such as the car falling off the jack. For this reason, you may decide to not undertake the job yourself. You seek out advice from expert providers of tire-changing services.
Both of these concepts are valuable, but should only be used as a starting point if you have absolutely no knowledge or experience of the task or information you’re researching. Or, if the task is complicated and requires true expert knowledge of the subtleties and nuance of the information.
The starting point of using crowdsourced knowledge can become a “fork in the road” to move forward with the activity you’ve been researching.
You can choose to take the knowledge and seek out an instruction manual for the car you wish to change the tire on. You can then do the work yourself, guided by the instructions created by an expert—in our example, the vehicle manufacturer.
Or you can choose to conduct additional research on the experts you’ve seen recommended:
- You might look up each expert’s online reviews through other platforms.
- You might seek out the expert’s professional credentials through government regulatory authorities or check out the professional biography of the expert.
- You might ask your trusted circle of friends, family and colleagues if they have used any of the recommended experts to obtain further information and enhance your research.
Using these additional activities, the crowdsourced research can lead you to find a high-quality expert in the area you’re researching.
But there’s a small alleyway off the side of the road where the “fork” in the road lies. We call that “shortcut alley” because too many people don’t want to take on the extra work necessary to find the best results for the information they seek. Instead, they want the shortest way to solve their problem.
They’ll take the crowdsourced information they’ve obtained at face value as the be-all and end-all of expertise.
They fail to use the crowdsourced knowledge solely as a starting point, and then do the extra work necessary to gather data and inform the ultimate decision with comprehensive research.
In our opinion, this is a disaster in the making more often than not. Yes, the crowdsourced information can often be very useful, such as learning to add a dollop of butter to your oatmeal at breakfast. But when it comes to more complicated topics, the crowdsourced expertise is anything but expert.
We learned this through the pandemic as we sought to provide free expert information to small business owners trying to navigate the United States Small Business Administration’s COVID-19 disaster loan program. Often, we’d encounter business owners telling us that our information was wrong. They would challenge us with the information they’d crowdsourced. Our pushback was to say that the experience of one person was unique to that person and that the loan program was too complicated to rely on the one experience of one business owner with their particular scenario.
We continue to encounter these crowdsourced-fake experts as many small businesses fail or continue to face challenges repaying these COVID-19 disaster loans. The crowdsourced-fake experts would have people believe they can simply walk away from the loan, to either ignore the consequences or, worse, to go about their days thinking, “The government will never come after me.”
Because we rail against this terrible advice, we’re sometimes accused of being fear-mongers so we can sell our products and services.
While it’s true that we’re a small business and we have products to sell and services for hire to earn a living, we also give away volumes of free expert advice through our YouTube videos, free downloadable guides, and responses to video comments. Our expertise is derived from our respective careers in the financial services field, from the work we did during the pandemic, and from the ongoing work we do to assist small business owners with their interactions with the SBA post-pandemic.