Go With The CrowdGiven the popularity of social media and the ease at which huge numbers of people can be contacted easily, there’s more news about the “wisdom of the crowd.” It’s thought that with enough people thinking about or working on something, the better the outcome. That’s not necessarily the case and something you need to watch out for if a group of people are making decisions for your client. You may be able to get involved and help your client head in the right direction.

This notion of group wisdom was recently discussed in James Surowiecki’s 2005 book The Wisdom of Crowds, but the idea goes back as far as an observation by Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton in 1907, according to the BBC. He discovered the average of all the estimates in a ‘guess the weight of the ox’ competition was amazingly accurate, doing better than most of the individual responses.

When To Go With the Crowd

There are limits to this wisdom. Surowiecki found that for good crowd judgment, individuals’ decisions must be independent of one another. If not, there’s more of a risk the decisions drift to a misplaced bias and consensus, away from accuracy. Finding consensus is often extolled as important in political decision making or company decisions, but the end result might just be a herd mentality heading towards an arbitrary position.

There are conflicting studies about the benefits of a more diverse crowd when making decisions. One 2004 study showed that a diverse group of problem-solvers made a better collective guess than that produced by the group of “best-performing” solvers. They found that diverse minds do better when their decisions are averaged than “expert” minds. But a 2011 study found that group predictions about football results were skewed away from the real outcomes by the over-confidence the participants, who were biased them towards their favorite teams in predicting the outcomes of games.

Yet another study made public in June tries to come up with a way to improve on crowd decision making. It found that putting independent thinkers into the crowd would be good but what’s even better is to have people whose views are as different as possible from the others. If you want accuracy it’s best to add those who strongly disagree with the group.

If your client has a group of people making decisions, especially if they’re managing a business, there’s a good chance it’s a pretty homogeneous group with consistent viewpoints and approaches. Someone who stands out consistently and takes contrary positions probably won’t last long in a business. To get the best outcome, consider playing the “Devil’s Advocate” and poke holes in proposals, seek out weak spots and suggest “out of the box” alternatives. It may result in a better decision for your client.