The wisdom of crowds concept is based on the premise that a group's collective knowledge can be pooled to make better decisions than any individual could make alone. A fine line separates the wisdom of crowds from random group behavior or mob rule.
Making the leap from random behavior to harnessing group knowledge requires structure and coordination. The first few minutes of this video describe four conditions that create "wise crowds" [this quote is not an exact transcript]:
Taking a bunch of people and putting them in a room does not make them smart by definition. Four elements create wise crowds:
- Diversity of opinion (large, diverse groups help avoid group think)
- Independence (each contributor making his or her own choices)
- Decentralization (no one person or authority is in charge)
- Aggregation (to take all that noisy data and turn it into something smart)
In summary, achieving wisdom of crowds involves giving small, simple tasks to a large diverse group, helping them understand selfish reasons for participating, and then aggregating the results.
Harnessing the wisdom of crowds represents a primary means to interrupt the cycle of IT failure present in many organizations.
Failures often emerge as a surprise to management; however, in reality, it's usually the case that some people inside the organization know in advance about impending problems. Of course, the big question is how to surface that knowledge, which is something I blog about in upcoming posts.