And then there's Joy's Law, a more obscure truism named after Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy. "No matter who you are," Joy is said to have said, "most of the smartest people work for somebody else."
For decades this koan about the scarcity of labor and expertise has held true, because of both economics and geography. The problem isn't merely the cost of hiring the smartest people, but the other frictions in the labor market that prevent companies from finding the right people, knowledge- and skills-wise.
But Joy's Law may not be sacred for much longer. A new wave of startups are bringing innovation to several labor markets, making the smartest people in the world available and employable by anybody (for a price). There's no better example of this than Kaggle.
Founded in 2010, Kaggle is an online platform for data-mining and predictive-modeling competitions. A company arranges with Kaggle to post a dump of data with a proposed problem, and the site's community of computer scientists and mathematicians -- known these days as data scientists -- take on the task, posting proposed solutions.
Importantly, competitors don't just get one crack at the problem; they can revise their submissions until a deadline, driving themselves and the community towards better solutions. "The level of accuracy increases, and they all tend to converge on the same solution," explains Anthony Goldbloom, Kaggle's co-founder and CEO.
Companies as varied as MasterCard, Pfizer, Allstate, and Facebook (not to mention NASA) have all created competitions. GE sponsored a contest to give airline pilots tools to make more efficient flight plans en route. Health technology company Practice Fusion funded another challenge to identify patients with Type 2 diabetes based on de-identified medical records.