Do you think the whole is greater than the sum of its parts? I do. I recently heard James Surowiecki speak about the wisdom of crowds. He should know. He wrote the book. At work, you can harness the wisdom of crowds so you can benefit from the results.
Why it works. Suroweicki talked about the research that shows that any one person making decisions certainly has knowledge, but also has biases and flawed logic. It stems from an individual putting more value on his own experiences. That limits decisions and the quality of those decisions. Think about yourself. Don’t you filter what you hear based on your own experiences? You probably do. Research shows that if you select more people to make a decision and aggregate their decisions, you arrive at more accurate decisions. Here’s an example.
In New York City there are parking regulations. Weekly, on street cleaning day, you must move your car or risk getting it ticketed or towed. These parking regulations are suspended for all state and federal holidays. Those days are easy enough to know. If you have a car parked on the street cleaning side on those days–no problem–you can sleep in and don’t have to move your car.
Here’s where it gets complicated. The parking rules for street cleaning are also suspended for the main religions’ holidays. Do you know all the Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim major holidays? I don’t. I bet you don’t either (without having to Google them first!)Do you think Surowiecki spends his time Googling religious holidays every street cleaning day to see whether the rules are in effect? Nope. He doesn’t have to. Here’s what he does.
He knows that the regulations are in effect until 11AM. He works at home. At 10:45 he peeks his head out of his front door and surveys the street. If 90% of the cars are gone, he knows the rules are in effect. He has to move his car. If 90% are still there, he goes right back in and leaves his car in the street. This wisdom of crowds has worked well for him for over 10 years of street cleanings. He doesn’t need to know all the religious holidays because the crowd does.
I’ve incorporated the wisdom of crowds into my work. I teach programs on persuasion, selling strategies and other business programs. I want the program participants to understand how to apply the principles to their business. One way to do this would be for me to develop the examples prior to the program. I often develop only one and that’s simply for explanation. Another way would be for the individual participants to work through the principles by themselves and generate ideas. Instead, I have them work together. I have consistently seen how the group comes up with better ideas than I could or they could by themselves.
What could you do at work as a group rather than by yourself? Do you limit yourself to input on your decisions to people only from your department? That’s dangerous. Their biases are probably the same ones you have. When you incorporate people from other departments, you also incorporate their unique –and different– perspectives. That makes for better decisions. When you aggregate the group’s data, you will usually generate better ideas than you could by yourself.