14 August 2006

Crowd Wisdom Formula

The Jenius has long subscribed to the notion that "the majority is wrong." Then along comes James Surowiecki, writes "The Wisdom of Crowds," and suddenly the "Well, most people think this way, so it must be right" form of idiocy gains even greater precedence, in everything from websites to U.S. presidential non-thinking.

But when you read the book, you discover that it isn't any crowd that makes wiser decisions, but a crowd with certain characterisitics. These are:

1. Diversity. A group with a variety of points of view makes better decisions than one where everyone has the same information/expertise.

2. Independence. Groups that have independent thinkers, those that eschew peer pressure to reach their own conclusions, do better than those composed of "sheep."

3. Decentralization. When multiple power foci exist, the overall decisions are better and have greater impact. (The open source software process is a good example.)

4. Filtering and Focusing. It's impossible to gather a crowd's wisdom unless the sum of its input is filtered (for relevancy) and focused. That's where an individual comes in, a manager or leader who can bring together the diverse threads and weave them into a tapestry that is both functional and appealing. As you can imagine, this is the most difficult condition to satisfy, for quality leadership is scarce, situations are often fluid, there's never one "best" solution and crowds seldom move in the same direction at the same time (hard to coalesce.)

So how does this apply to Puerto Rico?

1) Diversity? Not as much as We'd like to think, because We, in fact, discourage it. We don't cotton differences too well, as they'd say in Dixie.

2) Independence? See above. Our whole system is designed to create a "unified mentality"--one more akin to a state of coma than one of action. If anything, We tend to wait to hear what other people's opinions are before We tend to form Our own, something like waiting for another person to eat before We fart.

3) Decentralization? No. We suffer from "boss-itis," the notion that the boss makes all the decisions, thus does all the thinking. Comes from being pounded in school that there's only one way, only one answer and you have to wait to do what you're told to do before you can even think about doing it.

4) Filtering and Focusing? Yeah, right. Like We actually have a notion of leadership... Here, Our largest "wise crowds" are company-sized, so it is only at that level that We can actually see some higher-than-individual-scale wisdom. Go bigger than that and you have chaos.

What We have in Puerto Rico is an undiversified, herd-mentality, bureaucratically-crooked "crowd control" system, mainly centered around the government. What could break it?

---New elected public servants.

---A smarter, more probing media.

---An educational system aimed at developing thinking skills.

---A refocusing of Our attention on the world around Us, not on Our own belly button.

---A change in attitude from "They do to Us" to "We choose to do."

Wisdom of the crowds? No, We have mass stupidity. For now.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

1 comment:

Gabriel said...

Fascinating. And so very true, problem is, we tend to associate with like minded people and avoid groups whose values or opinions are different. I think it was tom Peters that said that it was essential to keep in constant contact with ppl who disagree with you, with ppl that have different perspectives. I guess this is a factor that explains why some politicians and entrepeneurs are so articulate and clear about their vision. If you a lot of time explaining and defending a position it becomes clearer even for you. Its too bad that culturally we are encouraged to be “polite” and agree with the crowd. “If you have nothing positive to say, say nothing at all” thats very common saying in the island and is so wrongly applied!
Associations like Centro Unido Detallistas suffer from this homogenization. Thats why they don't matter. By the way, last two years I have joined several local trade groups only to leave in disappointment. Apparently most groups in the island have the same strategy: lobby government for a break! Theres is little introspection or trying all kinds of different things.