The Smartest People May Not be as Smart as a Crowd,
but Who can Find a Smart Crowd?
In The Wisdom of Crowds, author James Surowiecki contends that the “smartest people” are often not as smart as a group of individuals formed under the right circumstances (XIII). Surowiecki backs up his claim by giving numerous real life examples of crowds that meet the criteria of having diversity of opinion, independence, decentralization and aggregation, and have proven to be smarter than almost any one individual in the group. Surowiecki has proven that he has a strong case for his theory of smart crowds but the exclusivity of this group of people has me wondering just how easy it is to identify or form such a group for practical purposes if no expert is available to mitigate a situation. I feel that such ability would take practice and an increase in awareness to master, but still, I do believe it can be done by almost anyone. Without addressing the specific argument of the reasonable ease of any one person being able to form a smart crowd, Surowiecki does provide a persuasive example in favor of my theory when he tells the story of the missing submarine Scorpion in May 1968. With no experts immediately available, naval officer John Craven assembled a group of men with a wide range of knowledge and asked them to submit their best guess on questions about the submarine’s disappearance from a variety of scenarios he concocted (XX). The result of his survey was a calculation of the answers that led to a location found to be only 220 yards away from where the submarine was found five months after it disappeared (XXI). Craven did this on the fly and without the help of any of the “smartest people” and found a better solution than any one expert ever did. Although an expert like Surowiecki finds it easy to identify examples of a wise crowd, I had to ask myself if I could do the same. I found myself thinking back to when I had been placed on a committee at work whose goal it...
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