CTC 2005: Tuesday morning

James Surowiecki presented the keynote on Tuesday morning, based on his book The Wisdom of Crowds. This particular address was really good, very interesting. In summary:

He regards collaboration as a double-edged sword: organisations need to manage collaborative processes in order to derive the full benefit of the “collective intelligence” found in groups. Surowiecki cited a number of examples of this collective reasoning: for example, guess the weight stalls at fairgrounds, Google’s page rank algorithm and betting odds at the racing track. Betting odds are aligned with the concept of “prediction markets” which have been successfully used in enterprises like Siemens, HP and Eli Lilly: rather than relying on a panel of experts to make decisions and recommendations, create a diverse group of people and have them make predictions. This “bottom-up” technique of decision-making is pretty radical, and echoes the sentiments expressed by Tom Malone in his keynote on Monday. For these groups to be intelligent, Surowiecki presented three things:

  1. Diversity (to avoid blandness, plus diverse groups tend to out-perform single-gender groups)
  2. Independence of individuals (for true opinions)
  3. Make effective aggregation of this intelligence possible

People new to an organisation or concept know less, but have different ideas and opinions, feeding into the group. Whilst human nature generally is to be imitative, it’s crucial that individuals within the group are independent. Surowiecki picked up on the fact that influential voices aren’t necessarily a good thing: lots of people following one point of view isn’t particularly conducive to great thought. The concluding thoughts were:

  • Talkativeness doesn’t equate with intelligence
  • Dominance of opinion etc. doesn’t work
  • The more random information sources are, the better
  • Talking with like-minded people is less productive (e.g. weblogs and their regular readers… Ahem)
  • Diversity is key

In the Q&A session, the internet was discussed: whilst it clearly offers amazing levels of diversity, it can also break things in this regard: mention was made of “astro-turfing” as being a real-life example of this… remember that? Finally, Surowiecki urged people to randomise their contacts with other people and their information sources: the more this happens, the more effective group wisdom will become.

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