Saturday, July 03, 2004

The wisdom of crowds

Having taking some time off I have been able to read a lot more and actually think about what I have been reading. I have just finished reading and contemplating (though I think I need to read it again) "The Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki. The essential hypothesis is that many are smarter than one. In our society (especially in Silicon Valley) this is not a widely held belief. There are a couple a caveats to this, 1) diversity is important in creating smart groups and 2) the ability to process and synthesize the collective wisdom is key. This is a over simplification but it close enough for the connections I want to make.

The current wave of efforts to create something with social software could learn and build on the thesis in this book, especially point 2 above. Most of the case studies presented in the book were derived from simple voting systems or from organizations with very talented leadership. It takes real talent to really listen and empower the team, while balancing the need for diversity of thought. It is easy to listen if everyone is saying the same thing and agreeing with you, but it does not create the best environment for success.

Social software is very good at collecting information and providing a forum for diverse discussions, but could it provide the foundation for creating a better decision making format? For it to succeed I think it needs to move in this direction.