The wisdom of the network

In his book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki (a former Daily Tarheel writer, now with the New Yorker) posits that groups of people are naturally smarter than individuals, even smarter than smart individuals. This reinforces my ideas about network-centric advocacy by showing that no matter how articulate and even correct one person (one activist, organizer, leader, lobbyist, spokesperson, whatever) may be, that groups of seemingly less-qualified people can be more powerful, have better ideas, and get more done.

Of course this requires that systems are in place that support distributed networks and that allow group leadership to emerge. While there will certainly be exceptions to this superior groupthink rule, the growing power of everyday people is something that advocacy organizations need to understand to succeed.

…If you run ten different jelly-bean-counting experiments, it’s likely that each time one or two students will outperform the group. But they will not be the same students each time. Over the ten experiments, the group’s performance will almost certainly be the best possible. The simplest way to get reliably good answers is just to ask the group each time.

Bonus link: Here are some pretty thorough notes on the book.

3 thoughts on “The wisdom of the network

  1. didn’t realize the dth connection, saw Surowiecki at etech, but i’m not sure i got much from it. i’m kind of anti-malcom-gladwell-esque-
    new-yorker-crossovers-into-sociology right now.

  2. Both valid points. I just think that organizations that are trying to make broad social change need to listen more to the people they are trying to change. Sometimes the instinctive reaction of 100 people is more valuable than the qualified opinion of one expert.

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