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Who Gets the Best Answers? The Wisdom of Crowds | Video

Who Gets the Best Answers? The Wisdom of Crowds | Video

There aren’t many books I recommend unreservedly to professional and business people I work with. But the Wisdom of Crowds is one of them.

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So, Who does Get the Best Answers?

It turns out it isn’t anyone. It’s certainly not the expert. Nor even two or three of them.

It’s all of them.

In fact, the best answer comes from everyone.

We can’t all be right

I am not saying we can all be right. On a project, you’ll get (and you should want) diverging opinions.

What I am saying is that Everyone can be right.

That is, everyone working together. Accessing the collective wisdom of a whole team.

That’s the Thesis of ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’

My book recommendation is ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ by James Surowiecki.

In it, he examines why the many are smarter than the few. More valuable though, he also sets out the conditions under which this is true.

“The best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise”

Conditions, Conditions. There are always Conditions

As you’d expect. the many aren’t always that smart. Large groups (even democratic nations) can make dumb choices. So Surowiecki examines when the magic happens. What sort of problems and decisions, and how to set up your team to harness their wisdom.

There are three primary criteria for a group to be smart:

1. Independence

Each group member must think independently

“The best way for a group to be smart is for each person to act as independently as possible”

“One of the consistent findings from decades of small group research is that group deliberations are more successful when they have a clear agenda and when leaders take an active role in making sure that everyone gets a chance to speak”

2. Diversity

Different perspectives are important.

“non-polarized groups consistently make better decisions and come up with better answers than most of their members, and surprisingly often the group outperforms even its best member.”

“Adding a few people who know less, but have different skills, actually improves the group’s performance”

“the simple fact of making a group diverse makes it better at problem-solving”

“Diversity contributes not just by adding different perspectives to the group but also by making it easier for individuals to say what they really think”

“… diversity of opinion is the single best guarantee that the group will reap benefits from face-to-face discussion.”

“… the presence of a minority viewpoint, all by itself, makes a group’s decisions more nuanced and its decision-making process more rigorous”

3. De-centralisation

No control over data gathering but the effective collation of diverse data. The essential trick is to collect local information and to aggregate it successfully

“The more a piece of information becomes available, the more valuable it potentially becomes”

Surowiecki identified three classes of problem for crowds:

  1. Cognitive
    – where there are definitive solutions
  2. Co-ordination
    – doing something together
  3. Collaborative
    – working together for common benefit

‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ is a brilliant book

It’s well-written and easy to read (Surowiecki is a journalist). But it’s also well-researched and full of delicious insight. For experienced project managers and business people, there is a lot that will move your thinking on. If you’re near the start of your career, this book will influence your thinking profoundly.

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About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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