Smart people often believe that the opinion of the crowd is always inferior to the opinion of the individual specialist. Philosophical giants such as Nietzsche thought that "Madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups". Henry David Thoreau lamented: "The mass never comes up to the standard of its best member but on the contrary degrades itself to a level with the lowest member." The motto of the great and the ordinary seems to be: Bet on the expert because crowds are generally stupid and often dangerous. Business columnist James Surowieckis new book The Wisdom of Crowds
explains exactly why the conventional wisdom is wrong. The fact is that, under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them. Groups dont even need to be dominated by exceptionally intelligent people in order to be smart. Even if most of the people within a group are not especially well-informed or rational, it can still reach a collectively wise decision. Why? Because, as it turns out, if you ask a large enough group of diverse, independent people to make a prediction or estimate a probability, and then average those estimates, the errors each of them makes in coming up with an answer will cancel themselves out. Not any old crowd will do of course. For the crowd to be wise it has to satisfy four specific conditions, but once those conditions are met, its judgment is likely to be accurate.
Surowieki concentrates on three kinds of problems. The first are cognition problems (problems that are likely to have definitive answers, such as: "How many books will Amazon sell this month?"). The second are problems of coordination (problems requiring members of a group to figure out how to coordinate their behaviour with one another) and the third are problems of cooperation (getting self-interested, distrustful people to work together-- despite their selfishness). The brilliant first half of the book illustrates this theory with practical examples. The second half of the book essentially consists of case studies with each chapter talking about the way collective intelligence either flourishes or flounders. Much of this part deals with business topics such as corporations, markets and the dynamics of a stock-market bubble.
Surowieki has an engaging, direct style defending his surprising central thesis in entertaining ways by, for example, talking about laying bets on football games and political elections; traffic jams; Google; the Challenger explosion and the search for a missing submarine. The Wisdom of Crowds is an entertaining book making a serious point and by the end of the superb first half the reader has been made to accept that, while with most things, the average is mediocrity, when it comes to decision-making the average results in excellence. --Larry Brown
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What the crowd is saying about The Wisdom of Crowds:
“The Wisdom of Crowds
is dazzling. It is one of those books that will turn your world upside down. It’s an adventure story, a manifesto, and the most brilliant book on business, society, and everyday life that I’ve read in years.”
—Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point
Most crowds of readers would agree that Jim Surowiecki is one of the most interesting journalists working today. Now he has written a book that will exceed even their expectations. Anyone open to rethinking their most basic assumptions--people who enjoyed The Tipping Point
, say--will love this book."
--Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball.
“This book should be in every thinking businessperson’s library. Without exception. At a time when corporate leaders have shown they’re not always deserving of our trust, James Surowiecki has brilliantly revealed that we can trust each other. That we count. That our collective effort is far more important than the lofty predictions of those CEO-kings we have worshipped for too long.”
—Po Bronson, author of What Should I Do With My Life?
“Jim Surowiecki has done the near impossible. He’s taken what in other hands would be a dense and difficult subject and given us a book that is engaging, surprising, and utterly persuasive. The Wisdom of Crowds
will change the way you think about markets, economics, and a large swatch of everyday life.”
—Joe Nocera, editorial director of Fortune
magazine and author of A Piece of the Action.
“It has become increasingly recognized that the average opinions of groups is frequently more accurate than most individuals in the group. As a special case, economists have spoken of the role of markets in assembling dispersed information. The author has written a most interesting survey of the many studies in this area and discussed the limits as well as the achievements of self-organization.”
—Kenneth Arrow, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and Professor of Economics (Emeritus), Stanford University
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