The (lack of) Wisdom of Crowds

Enter the echo chamber!

The ever brilliant and, dare I say, lovely Kathy Sierra had a post today that, once again knocked my socks off called The Dumbness of Crowds. In it, she calls out the people who seem to misinterpret the concept of “wisdom of crowds.” One quote that really struck a chord with me was, “By ‘crowd,’, I think he (James Surowiecki who wrote the book on the subject) meant “more people”, sure, but he also defined a big ol’ set of constraints for how much togetherness people can have before the results became dumber. And it turns out, not that much. By “crowd”, he was referringto a collection of individuals. Individuals whose independent knowledge (and “independent” is a key word in what makes the crowd
“smart”) is aggregated in some way, not smushed into one amorphous Consensus Result.”


That’s exactly correct. I think too many people have misinterpreted the wisdom of crowds to mean that everyone gets a chance. I liken it to the concept of giving every kid on the sports team an award…eliminating the MVP and such. We have to include everyone’s opinion, everyone’s view, effectively eliminating any chance at greatness.

Is collaboration good? Of course.

Is brainstorming and working with team beneficial? Absolutely.

Is there wisdom in crowds? If it’s done right.

The problem is summed up in an episode of The West Wing. One of the characters is frustrated by having to include everyone in a decision and vents that frustration by saying that they would be creating a camel…or a horse made by committee.

The wisdom of crowds, in my opinion (take it for what it’s worth…I haven’t read the book yet!) comes from a diverse set of “bits” of knowledge. On the Accidental Creative, Todd Henry talks about setting yourself up for creative accidents…when seemingly divergent ideas come together to form something new…something great. This is the wisdom of crowds. The collision of diverse knowledge sets. The convergence of seemingly unrelated ideas creating something truly great. Not starting with an idea and having everyone put in their two cents.

Kathy…great job as always. Thanks for keeping me thinking!

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The (lack of) Wisdom of Crowds

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