Jotting #7: Groups and Wisdom

A softer topic for a change. I am currently reading James Surowiecki‘s The Wisdom of Crowds, a very interesting book about why many non-experts can still beat the experts not just once but consistently. Puts some humility into all of us who consider themselves experts.

Especially chapter 9 Committees, Juries, and Teams: The Columbia Disaster and How Small Groups Can Be Made To Work got me thinking. We all participate in groups: ad hoc in meetings or longer term in teams but we have this prejudice that group work is often inefficient, the design-by-committee stereotype. Hence it is worthwhile to quote Surowiecki’s conclusions from this chapter:

[firstly] … group decisions are not inherently inefficient.  … [secondly] there is no point in making small groups part of a leadership structure if you do not give the group a method of aggregating the opinions of its members. If small groups are included in the decision-making process, then they should be allowed to make decisions. If an organisation sets up teams and then uses them for purely advisory purposes, it loses the true advantage that a team has, namely collective wisdom.

(It is important to understand under which conditions and for which problems crowds can be wise.)

This is strong stuff and not just fancy thinking but has been tested in various experiments. This is social sciences exciting and worthwhile.

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