The Wisdom of Crowds
by James Surowiecki
There is something in me that always makes me want to ignore current trends or even sometimes go against them. I am no great ‘rebel’ but I am always suspicious about the reasons of why certain things become popular. I rarely read the latest bestseller until someone I trust recommends it to me. At least with age, I have learnt to hold my tongue until I have tasted a product. (By the way, why does the blogger editor tell me ‘learnt’ is wrong?)
So, my friend David said I should read The Wisdom of Crowds. Seeing as he was the one who introduced me to Malcolm Gladwell, I gave it a go. And lately I have seen the book mentioned by other authors a few times, so I thought I’d dip back into it and extract some thoughts…
I am all for making decisions in groups and wholeheartedly agree with Surowiecki’s statement 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”. So I thank Mr S for his reminder about the dangers of ‘group polarization’
I am very familiar with ‘group think’ – a phenomenon that happens when individuals in groups prioritize showing agreement with the rest of the group over reaching a suitable decision – and I suppose group polarization is a phenomenon along the same lines.
Group polarization is the tendency of individuals to become more radical in their views when aligned to the rest of the group. So, in groups of risk-averse people, individuals will become more cautious while the opposite will happen in groups made up of those prone to taking risks.
As with all concepts presented by Surowiecki in his book, this one is backed up by research and illustrated by specific cases. So, if you are in charge of facilitating group discussions or are interested in the process by which groups make decisions, then I invite you to have a think about the risks and benefits of group decision-making as you read ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’.