If you do time in the business world you’ve certainly been exposed to the power of harnessing the voice of internal and external stakeholders to create new ideas and help organizations reinvent themselves. In fact, the statement, “the wisdom of the crowd,” continues to gain traction thanks to the high profile of open-sourcing, crowd-sourcing, social media and front-line idea generation platforms. Although I struggle to differentiate between business jargon and real-life vocabulary, the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ certainly seems to extend beyond the corporate domain.
How original is, ‘wisdom of the crowd’ thinking? Following a little investigation I found evidence that, ‘wisdom of the crowd,’ has been producing results since the 18th century.
There is a man by the name of Sir Francis Galton who produced over 340 papers and books over his lifetime and is credited as the first to apply statistical methods to the study of human differences and inheritance of intelligence, and introduced the use of questionnaires and surveys for collecting data on human communities.
The ‘guessing game’ phenomenon, still common in today’s travelling circuses and county fairs, hasn’t changed much since Sir Galton made his observations at a country fair in England. An owner of an Ox agreed to give his Ox away to the bystander who could correctly guess the weight of the Ox. Nearly 800 people gave their answers and not one of them was right. I can hear that cheeky whisper, “There goes the theory of, wisdom of the crowd.” But upon closer examination, under the guidance of Galton they discovered something rather remarkable. He approached the owner and asked for the data. He then spent time analyzing the guess work and discovered that after he averaged the guesses that the mean was 1197 pounds. The correct weight of the ox was 1198 pounds and the best guess was nowhere near that number.
Galton figured most in the crowd were pretty dumb, but soon realized that the aggregate ‘intelligence’ of the crowd may have become closer to a collective genius, as one. Perhaps this is a stretch, but the fact remains that there is a wealth of divergent views around us and if we can somehow utilize this rich ‘brain’ resource, at our fingertips, we may actually start to inspire our work colleagues, tapping into the wisdom of all those insights and knowledge swirling around. If you haven’t investigated how Idea Generation Platforms are starting to drive change it’s time you did.