Multitudes are generally smarter than their smartest members, declares New Yorker writer Surowiecki.
With his theory of the inherent sagacity of large groups, Surowiecki seems to differ with Scottish journalist Charles Mackay’s 1841 classic, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which dealt with such stupidities as the South Sea Bubble, tulip-mania, odd styles of whiskers, and dueling. Our 21st-century author admits that there are impediments and constraints to the intelligence of large groups, usually problems of cognition, coordination, and cooperation. A group must have knowledge, Surowiecki states: not extensive knowledge, but rudimentary comprehension of basic fact with harmonized behavior by individual members. Finally, individuals must go beyond self-interest for the good of all. That’s how capital markets and Google’s algorithm work, and how science isolated the SARS virus. Lack of the basics leads to traffic jams, the dot-com crash, and the Columbia shuttle mission disaster. If crowds are inherently clever, a reader may be prompted to ask, just how smart is a flock of turkeys? Not very smart, certainly, but smarter, Surowiecki would assert, than the smartest turkey individual. A school of herring is going to be more intelligent than any single fish in it. All this may be less than encouraging to hot-stock analysts, high-profile CEOs, and others who sell their personal expertise for a high salary, but the author argues persuasively that collective wisdom works better than the intelligent fiat of any individual. His wide-ranging study links psychology and game theory, economics and management theory, social science and public policy. And it advances Mackay’s report from times when, as the Scot put it, “knavery gathered a rich harvest from cupidity.”
Valuable insights regarding information cascades, crowd herding, cognitive collaboration, and group polarization. There is some individual, independent wisdom to be found here.