Why are there traffic jams? Why is it that the line you are standing in at Safeway is ALWAYS the slowest? Why are decisions made by groups usually better than those made by one person? These and other intriguing questions are answered in an entertaining, interesting and at times, astounding book that extolls The Wisdom of Crowds. Written by James Surowiecki, a staff writer for the New Yorker, this book makes the premise that, if you want to make a correct decision or solve a problem, large groups of people are smarter than a few experts, even if that large group contains a lot of dummies and morons.
Using real world examples from the financial, political and scientific arenas, the author shows how our entire society is run by decisions made collectively, and how those decisions are usually far more for the good of all than those made by a few geniuses or professionals. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the stock market, where the author argues that the price of a company’s stock is set by the expectations and calculations of many people with differing intelligence levels and points of view. This combined wisdom often outperforms that of even a couple of financial wizards, and proves that running with the rest of the bunch may be the smartest, and quickest, way to success.
The book recognizs the old paradigm of individual genius, say the Da Vinci’s and Galileos of the world, which has now been replaced by a new paradigm stating that the many have more ability to be smart and make good choices. Now, I am not buying into this completely, being very much aware of today’s general ignorance of mass numbers of people who know more about Britney Spears’ sex life than what nasty things their elected officials are up to. And I still believe that a group of brilliant minds can do more for the world than a bunch of apathetic idiots, but I do understand the theory the author speaks of, and can agree that it works in the realms of finance, and even traffic (the stuff about traffic control is fascinating!!!).
Whether or not you agree that the wisdom of crowds is better than the wisdom of a few, or even of one brilliant genius, you will still enjoy and learn from this book. And, of course, the author does state that he does not claim this collective wisdom is perfect, only that it does offer effective and profound proof of the intelligence of a diverse group of individuals working together. That I can agree with wholeheartedly.
The Wisdom of Crowds brings to mind other books on this unusually popular subject. Phillip Ball’s Critical Mass and Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point come to mind. Seems there are quite a few people out there interested in the sociological aspects of “crowd mentality,” and The Wisdom of Crowds will no doubt add more fodder for debate and dialogue. Perhaps the success of this book is the best proof the author needs to make his point.