We need to stop rewarding the same people and instead focus on the young, hidden talent within our community. In this entry I explore this issue and highlight a couple of potential solutions.
Disclaimer: Although I talk about young people a lot I believe these problem and solution applies to people of any age. My intention is not to skew focus on young people but rather focus on people who are hidden within the community and don't have the opportunities to be rewarded. My focus on young people is merely from personal experience and the fact that young people generally don't have the same opportunity as those who are older (life experience, income, age-restrictions, etc).
It's no secret that the majority of award ceremonies in our industry are won by the people who are most well-known. It's just reality really, you can't nominate and vote for someone that you don't know, can you?
The problem with this is that there are a whole swath of talented individuals who just aren't getting the recognition that they deserve. It's mainly young people, and it's mainly because they're relatively unknown within the industry. I don't think that it's right to reward the loudest most prominent people and affectively ignore those without a voice.
Even just 2 years ago I would never have had the opportunity to win Brilliant Newcomer at the .net awards, but that is exactly what happened last month.
So why did I win this award now and not then? Well, partly because I've done a lot of well-publicised work in the last year, but mainly because I've been very vocal and deliberately trying to get myself in front of people within this industry. Not because I want to win awards but rather because it's my job and it's the only way I've been able to achieve one of my never-ending goals in life, sharing my knowledge with others.
If I hadn't been active at getting myself recognised within this industry I am under no doubt that I would not have won the award. In fact, I probably wouldn't have even been nominated in the first place! We're very good at recognising the people who are already well-known and vocal, but we're shockingly bad at recognising those who aren't so vocal and who might not have the ability to put themselves in front of the right crowds.
This has made me come to the conclusion that we need to start actively searching out these hidden gems within our community and also celebrating our young talent. I'd much rather read about someone new and exciting within this industry than read about another award that well-known Person X has won (although, I'm sure Person X deserved it). And by constantly highlighting the same well-known people we're systematically preventing the new talent from rising up and sharing the spotlight that we're encouraging them to aim for.
Now this is all well and good highlighting the issue, but it's an obvious one and I'm certainly not the first to be vocal about it — we need to be proactive about it.
What can be done about it?
After speaking to a friend of mine we've come up with a couple of potential solutions to the problem. Neither are simple but both can be achieved if someone truly passionate about the issue gets involved.
Creating a new type of awards ceremony
One avenue to explore is that of creating a new type of awards ceremony, one that solely focuses on the young and hidden talent within our community.
The problem with this idea is that this young and hidden talent is hard to find, that's kind of what happens when something is hidden. However, there is a potential solution to that problem. Neutral talent scouts.
These scouts, recruited by the awards panel, will scour their local communities and events for young and hidden talent. Anyone that is found to be showing initiative and skill will be put forward for nomination in the next awards. These scouts could be anyone from teachers, speakers, other young people, to anyone else with deep connections within the Web community.
What is nice about this concept is that the nomination process is no longer about who gets the most votes. Instead, the nomination process is about who in their local communities the scouts believe have shown the necessary qualities for nomination.
I truly believe that the only way awards ceremonies are going to improve is if the concept of public nomination, while a nice idea, is removed entirely. It is exactly the cause of the problems within these kinds of ceremonies, and the same is the case when a panel of judges selects people at a single point in the year. These methods just don't work.
Now, the scouts idea still isn't ideal but it's certainly a start. We'd still have to work out how to choose these people and how to make sure nomination is fair for all.
We also still need to work out how the voting process works. I believe that the public should definitely vote for these awards but I don't necessarily believe that the public should be part of the selection process.
In all, we can certainly do something to improve awards ceremonies but I don't think we'll ever be able to truly remove the biased nature of recognising the loudest people within the community.
We need something that isn't a one-off event. Something more regular. Something that can reward every talented person within this community instead of just one. With that comes the next solution.
Our Community Is Awesome (.com)
Ok, so that isn't a real name but hopefully you get the idea. It would be a website the celebrates all the talented people within our community who are doing awesome things.
How the website finds out about these people is still up for the discussion but I've had a few ideas:
- A scout system like the one I described for the award ceremonies
- An automated system
All three have their pros and cons. The scout system means that little to no moderation will have to be done before highlighting someone on the website, however people could still be missed if they aren't seen by the scouts.
The user-submissions are a good idea because anyone who knows about the website can submit a friend or colleague that they feel deserves recognition. However this method will require extensive moderation and will leave people out who don't have friends who know about the website.
My favourite idea is to create an automated system of highlighting awesome people within this community. Perhaps this is my favourite because I like impossible tasks, who knows.
The general idea for the automated system would be to initially scrape the large creative outlets (Dribbble, Forrst, etc) for young and relatively unknown people. The system would then generate a daily report of the most interesting people and work.
This type of system would still leave out a lot of people (anyone who doesn't use the services it scrapes) so, until I learn how to create self-learning machines, perhaps combining this solution with one of the other two will be a good compromise for the time being.
I think that having something working and doing something good is better than having nothing at all. We can always improve upon the procedure over time.
So what next?
These are just ideas right now, nothing more. I know that myself and a few of my friends would love to see something like this, as I'm sure many others in the community would.
I'd love to hear about any similar projects around (I'm sure I'm not the first to come up with these ideas) and I'd also be interested to hear your opinions on the solutions raised in this entry.
Hopefully we can make 2012 the year that we put our egos aside and celebrate how amazing our community really is. Are you with me?