Next session has James Surowiecki speaking on The Wisdom of Crowds.

BTW, I caught the 2pm keynote which covered “building big things with small groups”. Their wisdom: KISS.

Title compliments of SteveR

Tapping the collective wisdom of a large group of people – “under proper conditions we can leverage the intelligence of the large group”.

Hey, I ran on the idea that we could tap the collective wisdom of Chapel Hill to solve some seemingly rather intractable problems.

JS: Google is an excellent example of the power of the collective. “Google is tapping into the intelligence of the ‘net” via page ranking to sort the most relevant links to the top.

Over the long haul, the bettors at the racetrack function, collectively, as a perfect forecaster of the future. Rather remarkable considering that the pool of bettors include “old-hands” quite knowledgable on horse-racing, folks betting their Mom’s first name, those using lucky numbers or “systems” – in general, a normalized mix of people, the common factor of which they’re interested in a positive outcome.

Of course, JS’s basic hypothesis is not too different than that posited by the Delphi Method, described further in this 1975 work The Delphi Method: Techniques and Applications

JS: Diversity is key in getting good results.

Why is it we don’t generally trust the decisions of the group?

– We’ve become acultured to the idea of the “wise leader”

– We understand the dangers of “groupthink” – the problem of uniformity

We need a rotating “devil’s advocate” – a role adopted by someone new within the group to provide a countervailing viewpoint to that of the group. During the Inquisition, the Church created such a role to sharpen the thinking of the judges.


The members of the group need to provide an authentic viewpoint, take ownership, and not tag along. Instead of aggregating all the elements offered up in the process, we emphasize consensus way too much. The most effective crowd is a group of individuals. Imitation is an anathema too tapping into creative powers of the group.

Keynes – “It’s better to fail conventionally rather than suceed unconventially.” Folks worry about their reputation – stronger pull on them to appear conventional and maintain their reputation than to strike out independently.

While the Internet offers hope for pulling together the intelligence of crowds, there’s problems.

Gathering a representative crowd is difficult to judge. Folk often show a very poor ability picking “experts” to “salt” the crowd with knowledge.

The ‘net encourages imitation and the creation of “echo chambers”.

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