Monday, December 01, 2008

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Earlier this year, I attended a project kickoff meeting for a large website redesign project. There were many attendees, over two dozen if I remember correctly, from various business units and departments, and a vendor team was also present.

One of the recurring themes of the meeting was the importance of diverse groups in large, complex projects. To reinforce the point, the Project Leader distributed a copy of The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki to every meeting attendee.

I was interested in the concept presented at the meeting and followed up by reading the book.

The Wisdom of Crowds very much endorses the notion that groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them or a single brilliant individual. But not just any group. As Surowiecki demonstrates, not all groups are wise and some become mobs. For a group's collective intelligence to rise and produce better outcomes than a single or small group of experts, four conditions must be met. Wise crowds need diversity of opinion, independence of members from one another, decentralization, and a good method for aggregating opinions.

Surowiecki provides several examples of collective intelligence outperforming individual experts and looks at, among other examples, Google, voting, betting, and traffic.

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