The Wisdom of Crowds

Afterword

One of the key lessons of the Wisdom of Crowds is that we don’t always know where good information is. That’s why, in general, it’s smarter to cast as wide a net as possible, rather than wasting time figuring out who should be in the group and who should not. This idea is well suited to the internet. The more information a group has, the better its collective judgement will be, so you want as many people with good information in a group as possible. The Wisdom of Crowds is not an argument against experts, but against our excessive faith in the single individual decision maker. If a group is smart enough to know whether an individual is a genuine decision-making prodigy, then the group is smart enough to not need that individual. Even brilliant experts have biases and blind spots, so they can make mistakes. What’s troubling is that, in general, they don’t know when they’re making those mistakes. Experts don’t know when they don’t know something. That’s why it’s worthwhile to cast a wider net and why relying on a crowd of decision makers improves (though doesn’t guarantee) your chances of reaching a good decision. Be careful to keep the group diverse, and careful to prevent people from influencing one another too much. The crowd’s judgement is going to give us the best chance of making the right decision, and in the face of that knowledge, traditional notions of power and leadership should begin to pale. I am cautiously hopeful that they will, allowing us to begin to trust individual leaders less and ourselves more. Wisdom of crowds works on problems where there’s a true answer, or when some choices are better than others in some sense. The reason this works is that people are operating on private info, which may be bad or fragmented.

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