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The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are…

The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How… (2004)

by James Surowiecki

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,192591,748 (3.79)25
  1. 20
    Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky (rakerman)
    rakerman: Shirky covers a lot of the "nonintuitive properties of internet-enabled crowds" ground that is explored in depth in Wisdom of Crowds
  2. 02
    Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex by Jeffrey Kluger (Othemts)

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Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
A very interesting book. If you like informative nonfiction written in a popular, easy-to-understand format, then you'll love this. ( )
  piersanti | Sep 28, 2014 |
This book was so bad that reviewing it feels like a waste of time, but I will briefly explain what's wrong with it. The author begins with an old idea: crowds can be wise when they exhibit diversity of opinion, independence, decentralization and when their views can be aggregated. Hayek presented this idea in the context of markets in his 1945 paper "The use of knowledge in society". Like a true journalist the author has collected a heap of stories which he thinks illustrate the idea, but he's badly mistaken. Probably 60-70% of the topics he discusses are not valid examples of collective intelligence at work. Many of his stories are pointless and yield no conclusions whatsoever.

It seems to me that the author hasn't understood collective intelligence at all. He could have easily tested his examples by assessing whether or not they meet the four criteria he cites in the beginning - diversity, independence, decentralization and aggregation. If he had done that, if he had weeded out the invalid cases and explained for each valid case how the criteria are met, I would have liked this book. But he seems to have forgotten the criteria as soon as he wrote them down and goes on to recount all kinds of irrelevant tales which have little or nothing to do with collective intelligence. Even in the limited number of examples where he has managed to correctly identify collective intelligence at work, he usually fails to explain how the four criteria are met.

I strongly advice against reading this book. No useful lesson can be learned from an author who hasn't understood the idea he's trying to convey.
  thcson | Apr 16, 2014 |
The Wisdom of Crowds falls into the same genre as Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell's books, a fascinating collection of interesting stories, studies and anecdotes toward a general premise.
Surowiecki is a little more academic in writing style then the others above, but there is also a lot more information in this book then in some of the others.
The basic idea is that we are smart as a group then we are individually. He's not advocating "group think" (one of the negative manifestations of collective decision making), but rather intentional collecting of individual decisions. An example of this is your typical "guess the number of jelly beans" contest. Studies show that if you take the average of all the guesses made will be closer then the vast majority of the individual answers, and closer over a series of contests then any individuals guesses.
Time and again the research shows that if we can intelligently coordinate a "crowd", their decisions will be better then the "experts" every time.
Surowiecki gives examples from all over and discusses things like the stock market, traffic patterns, CEOs, and sports.

If you've read any of Malcolm Gladwell or Freakonomics, you'll definitely enjoy The Wisdom of Crowds. ( )
  ariahfine | Jan 21, 2014 |
Wow! This book really challenged my assumptions regarding how decisions are made in groups of all sizes and compositions.
If you enjoyed any of Malcolm Gladwell's books, you are going to love this. It takes an activity that almost all people engage in every day and makes the reader consider it in a very different way.
I've got a lot to think about.... ( )
  Scarchin | Nov 12, 2013 |
Updated 4/12/09. I was handing out this book to all my friends and colleagues at work, especially our president, who seemed to think a small coterie of sycophants was all he needed.

From an earlier review I wrote some time ago: Wisdom of Crowds is a very insightful book about how we make decisions. The author describes the dangers of homogeneity in promoting group think, something we will begin to see more of in the Bush second administration as he builds his Cabinet with "Yes" men and women. Analysis by social scientists shows that decisions made by groups that permit little diversity are often wrong and conformity to adhere to the majority opinion can be very strong. Solomon Asch 's studies on conformity showed that an individual would often agree with the group even if there was overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For example, when presented with a card showing lines of different lengths and asked to pick the shortest one, subjects would almost always pick the one chosen by other members of the group (the experimenter's confederates) even when it was obviously not the shortest.

Many of Surowiceki's arguments seem counter-intuitive, but he cites a fair amount of evidence that the best decisions, on average, are always made by groups rather than individuals regardless of their expertise. In fact, he says: "... the more power you give a single individual in the face of complexity and uncertainty, the more likely it is that bad decisions will get made."

For the group decision-making process to work the best, several elements must be present.

1. A formal process for encouraging disagreement must be present;

2. The group must consist of stakeholders and non-stakeholders, i.e., people normally not part of the group should be present to make sure diversity of opinion is present. Diversity guarantees that multiple perspectives are brought into the decision-making process and that a broader range of information is included;

3. the group must belief and see that it has the responsibility for making decisions. If the decision is made elsewhere, the result is the opposite, i.e., bad results or at least not the best;

4. individuals be independent and have that independence respected to avoid being swayed by a leader or one powerful individual,

5. and there be a process for aggregating the opinions. It's important that pressure to conform be suppressed.

An intelligent group does not ask of its individual members to conform to the dominant view. Instead it creates a mechanism that resembles a democracy or a market. Individual group members get the opportunity to bring in their own information and opinions and are not forced to change their views. Their independence must be explicitly protected.

Much like army ants in a circular mill who die from exhaustion following a lost leader, humans will often indulge in group think and group action even if it is not in their interest to do so. And the more influence we exert on one another the more likely we are to become collectively dummer. A very good argument for encouraging independent thinkers and nay sayers.

The first half, or so, of the book is theory (sounds dry, but it's really quite fascinating) followed by some case studies. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
In ''The Wisdom of Crowds,'' James Surowiecki, who writes a column called The Financial Page for The New Yorker, challenges that received wisdom. He marshals evidence from the social sciences indicating that people in large groups are, in effect, better informed and more rational than any single member might be. The author has a knack for translating the most algebraic of research papers into bright expository prose -- though the swarm of anecdotes at times makes it difficult to follow the progress of his argument.
added by mikeg2 | editNew York Times, Scott McLemee (May 22, 2004)
New Yorker business columnist Surowiecki enlivens his argument with dozens of illuminating anecdotes and case studies from business, social psychology, sports, and everyday life.
added by Katya0133 | editEntertainment Weekly, David Koeppel
What emerges in "The Wisdom of Crowds" is a book that is both clever and slightly tiresome.
added by Katya0133 | editWall Street Journal, George Anders
This work is an intriguing study of collective intelligence and how it works in contemporary society.
added by Katya0133 | editLibrary Journal, Lucy Heckman
Surowiecki's style is pleasantly informal, a tactical disguise for what might otherwise be rather dense material.
added by Katya0133 | editPublishers Weekly

» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James Surowieckiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Häilä, ArtoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Surowiecki, JamesAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385721706, Paperback)

In this fascinating book, New Yorker business columnist James Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea: Large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant–better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.

With boundless erudition and in delightfully clear prose, Surowiecki ranges across fields as diverse as popular culture, psychology, ant biology, behavioral economics, artificial intelligence, military history, and politics to show how this simple idea offers important lessons for how we live our lives, select our leaders, run our companies, and think about our world.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:45 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In this book, New Yorker columnist Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea that has profound implications: large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant--better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future. With seemingly boundless erudition and in clear, entertaining prose, Surowiecki ranges across fields as diverse as popular culture, psychology, ant biology, economic behaviorism, artificial intelligence, military history and political theory to show just how this principle offers important lessons for how e live our lives, select our leaders, run our companies, and think about our world.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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