“The mob rushes in where individuals fear to tread,” wrote B. F. Skinner in his book Walden Two, which was written in 1948– way before social media made it easier for people and groups to get together in the virtual world and start thinking together as one.
Reiterating Skinner’s point on the intelligence of ‘crowd thinking’, The Wisdom of Crowds was written at a time when social media just started starting to show its presence, like a kid stealthily entering a classroom. Written by James Surowiecki, this intelligent book shows us through thought-provoking case studies and anecdotes how the ‘team’ or ‘group’ always outsmarts the ‘me’ or ‘I’. Mass opinions actually seem to outsmart the solitary expert (in most cases)!
In the opening anecdote, Surowiecki narrates Francis Galton’s experience at a county fair where the crowd accurately guessed the weight of an ox when their individual guesses were averaged. Francis Galton was not from the current era where companies have regular team building and people management exercises, like now where the ability to work in teams is considered one of the main prerequisites for any job. Rather, he was a sociologist who lived way back between 1822 and 1911.
Group thinking only works effectively when enough space is provided to dissenting voices and when diversity of opinion and independence is given preference– and this is exactly what social media allows us to do today. By providing a platform to share individual opinions and to influence each other in the right way, social media and the internet promotes group thinking and group decision making every day.
It’s satisfying when books written decades ago still hold their relevance in a world where social media has become intertwined with many aspects of our personal and professional lives. The intent of most marketing strategies today is to appeal to the masses, rather than the individual. It’s common practice these days to first read the user and customer reviews before buying a product or visiting a new place. The “Ask the Audience” lifeline from the famous show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” also seems to use the ‘wisdom of crowds’ to help the contestants become millionaires!
To use the wisdom of crowds and to keep the essence of individuality at the same time, Surowiecki recommends that you:
- Keep your ties loose
- Keep yourself exposed to as many diverse sources of information as possible
- Make groups that range across hierarchies
You can read this book to learn more about the wisdom of crowds and how we can pick up learnings to apply to today’s world where the internet and social media are making their presence felt everywhere.