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How much credence should we give crowd wisdom?

James Surowiecki proposed that groups, under the right circumstances, can make decisions that are surprisingly intelligent and often superior to what the smartest individuals in those groups could achieve on their own.

AUTHOR: Kylee Ingram


The intriguing concept of "the wisdom of crowds," introduced by James Surowiecki twenty years ago, was the focal point of ABC's radio program The Mindfield. Surowiecki, a New Yorker staff writer and business journalist, unearthed a counterintuitive phenomenon through his observations across various arenas such as game shows, betting markets, internet search results, and social experiments. He proposed that groups, under the right circumstances, can make decisions that are surprisingly intelligent and often superior to what the smartest individuals in those groups could achieve on their own.

This idea challenges the historical skepticism towards collective decision-making, which dates back to philosophical critiques from figures like Plato, who associated crowds with irrationality and mob rule. Surowiecki's theory suggests instead that there is a form of alchemy in the aggregation of individual opinions and knowledge, leading to collective wisdom even when individual contributors are not particularly well-informed or rational.

The radio program delved into the implications of this theory for democratic societies and beyond, highlighting that the "wisdom of crowds" does not require the presence of exceptionally intelligent individuals to be effective. Rather, it benefits from the diversity of thought, experience, and information that a larger group can provide. This has led to a reevaluation of crowd-sourcing, citizen journalism, and other collaborative efforts, suggesting that under the right conditions, collective decision-making can lead to better, more informed outcomes than decisions made by individuals or homogeneous groups.

The program also explored the limitations and conditions necessary for the wisdom of crowds to prevail, such as diversity of opinion, independence among decision-makers, and a method of aggregating choices that captures collective wisdom without succumbing to the pitfalls of conformity or groupthink.

In the context of modern decision-making challenges, Wizer embodies the practical application of Surowiecki's insights. Wizer enhances decision-making processes for individuals and organizations by leveraging technology to connect them with the right mix of expertise, diversity, and independence needed for wise decisions (in the form of real people not AI). Wizer's approach is grounded in the belief that a small, well-composed group can effectively harness the wisdom of crowds, filling the gaps in traditional decision-making frameworks and promoting a more inclusive, transparent, and effective decision-making culture. Check out the episode of Mindfield here https://www.abc.net.au/listen/programs/theminefield/the-minefield-the-wisdom-of-crowds-part-one/103451430

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