Smart People, Dumb Groups, Wise Crowds

I was having a few conversations this past week about odd or negative group behaviors in history that were brought into focus by, of all things, a line from the film Men In Black:

A person is smart. People are dumb. Everything they’ve ever ‘known’ has been proven to be wrong. A thousand years ago everybody knew as a fact, that the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on it. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

At first blush, one might argue that the writers of the film had obviously never read Suroweicki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, but if you think about it a bit more deeply, one can argue there is probably a bell curve of intelligence as it pertains to groups.

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Or more accurately, a bell curve for the potential for things to go awry in groupthink. Jamestown and the Nazis are two particularly egregious examples of ‘dumb’ groups.

More to Surowiecki’s thesis, the big part of this curve must presumably represent the lack of one or more of the elements he asserts are required for a group to be ‘wise’: diversity of opinion, independent thought, decentralization of knowledge, and a mechanism to aggregate knowledge.

Sometimes ‘people’ really can be dumb. Quite sad.

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One comment

  1. Mike Svatek

    Interesting Shawn, cool MIB reference. The key really is Suroweicki’s 4 requirements for crowds to be “wise” as you stated above. Our customers will attest to it.

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