The Wisdom of Crowds notes and links

February 21, 2006 at 1:54 pm 1 comment

I finished reading James Surowiecki‘s The Wisdom of Crowds.  Here are some notes and comments. 

P.xv “We assume that the key to solving problems or making good decisions is finding that one right person who will have the answer…we feel the need to chase the expert.  The argument of this book is that chasing the expert is a mistake.” 

P.xviii A few kinds of problems crowds deal with, cognition, coordination, and cooperation.  The conditions necessary for crowds to be wise: diversity (of thought), independence, and …decentralization [with a way to aggregate results]. P. xix Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise. 

P.10 More on the conditions that characterize wise crowds: diversity of opinion (each person should have some private information, even if it’s just an eccentric interpretation of known facts), independence (people’s opinions are not determined by the opinions of those around them, decentralization (people are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge), and aggregation (some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision).  He explains why satisfying these conditions mathematically leads to an accurate result: “If you ask a large enough group of diverse, independent people to make a prediction or estimate a probability, and then average those estimates, the errors each of them makes in coming up with an answer will cancel themselves out.  Each person’s guess…has two components: information and error.  Subtract the error, and you’re left with the information.” 

P.16 look up “The anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine” By Brin and Page (Google) 

P.29 Diversity is important…it adds perspectives that would otherwise be absent and…weakens some of the destructive characterizations of group decision making….Fostering diversity is actually more important in small groups and in formal organizations than in …larger collectives…diversity is almost guaranteed.  On teams or in organizations, by contrast, cognitive diversity needs to be actively selected, and it’s important to do so because in small groups it’s easy for a few biased individuals to exert undue influence and skew the groups collective decision. 

P.31 Quoted James G. March:”The development of knowledge may depend on maintaining an influx of the naive and the ignorent, and…competetive victory does not reliably go to the properly educated.”  Bringing new members into the orgnization, even if they’re less experienced and less capable, actually makes the group smarter simply because what little the new members do know is not redundant with what everyone else knows. March:”Recruits are, on average, less knowledgeable than the individuals they replace.  The gains come from their diversity.”


Entry filed under: wisdom of crowds.

More Meaning of Everything Notes More Wisdom of Crowds

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. jason  |  May 8, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    Thanks! I finished audioreading the audiobook and felt that the book left out some type of definitive conclusion, a list of the things that work. I remembered that he kind of mentioned such things somewhere in the middle of the book, but found it hard to find it again. A google search led me here and you nailed it.


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