Monday, November 9, 2009

Wisdom of Crowds

A couple weeks ago, a speaker came in to school for a club I'm in (Out of the Box) to talk about the Wisdom of Crowds phenomenon, which is essentially a phenomenon observed where the average of conclusions reached by independently-thinking individuals in a crowd tends to be more accurate than any conclusion made by any individual, regardless of how expert they are. It is also observed among collaborating teams, such as those of artists, scientists, and tacticians.

There are 4 characteristics a crowd needs in order to be successful: diversity of opinion (such as differing, eccentric interpretations of the same data), independence (individual members not being influenced by others before forming their own opinion), decentralization of power, and aggregation (which essentially means an average of different ideas).

All of these are necessary in order to encourage specialization and diversity and prevent conformity, which is dangerous to the health of a crowd.

The speaker gave us a ton of different examples of good and bad crowds. I'll mention a couple.

Good Crowds:

1) Google Search. Any time an individual links to a site, it gets a 'vote' for popularity, and the more 'votes' a site has, the more its 'votes' count for other sites. That's how top search results are determined, and that's why you find the best with the first few links. It's decentralized, individual, diverse, etc.

2) The identification of what exactly the SARS virus was accomplished in less than a month because scientists worldwide shared information and worked independently-- an amazing scientific feat.

3) The section of this article about the SS Scorpion is amazing.

Bad Crowds:

1) Planning the Bay of Pigs Invasion-- 1200 troops sent to take over Cuba resulting in utter failure. Those opposing it were not listened to, and there was insufficient sharing of intelligence from different organizations, the group did consult other experts of differing opinion, etc.

2) Mob rule.

What does this say about innovation, creativity, and working in groups? How can you use this for your own advantage?

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