Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Wisdom of Crowds

The Wisdom of Crowds – James Surowiecki
Subtitled: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations

What a great book. It gives insight into all sorts of social conduct from mob behaviour to riots, stock market behaviour, the benefits of diversity, elections and democracy. It got me thinking why South Africa is such a great place at the moment, why the structure of certain organizations is a clear recipe for doom and why we need to radically rethink our approach to traffic.

It gave me goose bumps twice and I flattened the book of 338 pages in one sitting (OK it was a long plane trip!). Gripping, engaging and intelligent.

I’ve come away believing that crowds are wise, that the masses collectively have a form of knowledge that they may not hold individually and that there is no virtue in being above average (or considering oneself to be so).

I’m not entirely sold on the entire “wise crowds” thesis of the book as there are moments of contradiction that make no sense or are not convincingly dealt with. If, for instance, there is so much knowledge and wisdom in the crowd why do we have stock market crashes and bubbles? Suroweicki does grapple with these issues but I’m not convinced he takes them to a meaningful conclusion though.

But, this book is one which I’d clearly endorse because it has made me confront my own bigotry toward the common or average man.

The crowd is better than me, more intelligent, wiser and on the whole will make better decisions than I can. I never thought that way before.

If I manage to beat the crowd, then well, I’m just lucky.


kyknoord said...

If you're planning on beating the crowd, I would recommend a sturdy sjambok and a fast car.

ATW said...

Superb chirp , o japanese mountain man.

But seriously, after reading this book, I have decided that going along with the crowd might not be so bad which is a mindblowing thought for any would be maverick!

It is the question said...

This is on my wish list.

I wonder how it compares to a book I bought at the MCA in London some time back, "In praise of the silent majority."

The latter was a difficult (I recall it being translated from French or something) but rewarding and mind-jogging read.

VallyP said...

For a self confessed misanthropist, and a founder member of les misanthropes anonymes, a virtual society of like minded souls ;-), this book sounds as if for me, it would be a bit like flaunting the book of druid lore infront of an early christian..lol.

Seriously though, being strongly averse to crowds, I am morbidly fascinated by the idea of their collective wisdom! In brief, I'd love to read it...just out of curiosity, you understand...;-)