This seemingly counterintuitive notion has endless and major ramifications for how businesses operate, how knowledge is advanced, how economies are (or should be) organized, and how we live our daily lives. With seemingly boundless erudition and in delightfully clear prose, Surowiecki ranges across fields as diverse as popular culture, psychology, economic behaviorism, artificial intelligence, military history, and political theory to show just how this principle operates in the real world.
Despite the sophistication of his arguments, Surowiecki presents them in a wonderfully entertaining manner. The examples he uses are all down-to-earth, surprising, and fun to ponder. Why is the line in which you're standing always the longest? Why is it that you can buy a screw anywhere in the world and it will fit a bolt bought ten-thousand miles away? Why is network television so awful? If you had to meet someone in Paris on a specific day but had no way of contacting them, when and where would you meet? Why are there traffic jams? What's the best way to win money on a game show? Why, when you walk into a convenience store at 2:00 A.M. to buy a quart of orange juice, is it there waiting for you? What do Hollywood mafia movies have to teach us about why corporations exist?
The Wisdom of Crowds is a brilliant but accessible biography of an idea, one with important lessons for how we live our lives, select our leaders, conduct our business, and think about our world.
©2004 James Surowiecki; (P)2004 Books on Tape
"Surowiecki's style is pleasantly informal, a tactical disguise for what might otherwise be rather dense material. He offers a great introduction to applied behavioral economics and game theory." (Publishers Weekly)
This book has actually made me so angry in reading it that I'm having trouble writing a fair assessment of it. The authors assessment for the "wisdom of crowds" was judged by the fact that if you average people's guesses at the numbers of marbles in a jar, it comes to be rather close. Fine for guessing marbles in a jar, but real world applications of this type of thinking is flawed and arguments for it are left wanting. A good half the arguments he develops in the book are about the stupidity of crowds; leaving me wondering why I even bothered with his trite analysis of "funny and amusing sociological data" The author's world is a sterile and joyless place where the reality of his ideas are about as exciting as this read. The last time I checked "crowds" haven't written any great books, created any symphonies or inspired me to any level like an individual could.
I heard about this book via Forbes top-ten business books list and usually find nonfiction books better on recording. I would definitely listen to a snippet of the book before buying. Unlike some other reviewers, I found the narrator boring and frankly sounded like a computer-automated voice. I'll never listen to another audiobook read by that narrator.
I have only read two hours of this book, and I have no intention of finishing it. During this time, I have been barraged with monotonous examples in which the average answer of the crowd happens to be more accurate than most of the individuals in that crowd. His wordy self-important style of writing leaves me with the feeling that this could instead be a man seeing an enormous number of coincidences, and presenting all the ones that happen to suit his views.
Perhaps the author will decide to get around to some adult level conversation and scientific analysis in the remaining seven hours, but I would not bet on it. And as I still have a splitting headache from the first two hours, I am not about to find out.
This book was well done and informative. I found it a little difficult at times to keep up with all the points the author made (there are many). All are around the same topic--how crowds can be more effective then individuals under certain conditions--but there are many sub points that can lead the reader/listener confused at times. This is one I could see myself listening to again to gain more clarity. The only reason that I didn't give it a 5 was because there is so much going on in this book, and to many I'm sure that's a good thing. For me it was too, but I offer that point as a means of caution to the person who thinks this is a quick and easy book. It isn't, but it is well researched and well thought out.
The book is interesting because the premise is hard to believe. The problem is I think it's hard to believe because it's not true. One of the main examples is how on the Millionaire TV show, the audience lifeline is so much better than phone-a-friend. I've been watching the show a while now to check this out and the author's reasoning is very weak because he's comparing apples and oranges. Usually the constestants pick the audience lifeline first, so they're using it for easier questions which aren't comparable to the harder questions later in the game that they save up the other lifelines for. Very rarely people will use up both of these lifelines on the same question because they don;t trust the lifeline: in those cases that I've seen, the audience was wrong. Also the audience is generally reliable for pop culture types of questions about Britney Spears's baby for example whereas the phone-a-friend is best for soemthing that can be quickly Googled or looked up in the dictionary (although some contestants don't seem to get this). Without controlling for these various factors, the author's conclusions are meaningless. This was something I could check by watching TV. The other examples about lost submarines and whatnot I can't check on my own but if the reasoning is as weak as with this example, it suggests the whole book is wrong.
If you have been afraid to read this book for fear of running into ideas that fall prey to the sharpshooter heuristic, your fears are founded. However, despite some bad arguments, this book was far more balanced that I imagined it would be. In truth, it should be titled The Wisdom and Stupidity of Crowds: Parsing out What Makes Groupthink More or Less Effective." It had a lot of interesting little tidbits of knowledge that were new for me. Because of this, I would recommend this book to anyone who is capable of sifting out anecdotal stories and focusing on the parts that were far more informative and fact-based.
The decisions, choices, and estimates made by crowds--i.e. by aggregating or averaging their selections--can be better, more accurate, or more reliable than the selections of their smartest members. For example, averaging the selections of a crowd can result in a selection that none of its constituent members actually made, and can nevertheless be the best selection. One big takeaway from this book, however, is that crowds work best when they contain true diversity of thought. A crowd may look diverse, in color, gender, or whatever; but if the thinking of their members follow the same grooves, it reduces the wisdom of the crowd.
Former Marine 4321, former State Department public diplomacy officer. Current USAF Public Affairs Specialist
This books amazed me by what I learned. While I'm still not completely sure why crowds are wise, I'm definitely convinced they are. And this has major implications for how to do leadership -- by small committee or by collective action. Collectively we are stronger than in oligarchies. Of course, world history is showing this to be true given the strength of truly democratic markets compared to those of centrally controlled governments. In a way, this book explains why the absurd experiment of letting the "common" human have a say in the government is actually working.
This book complements the insights from the social media book crowd sourcing. Together, I think they are slowly making inroads in changing way business models work in the U.S., much for the better.
This book is part of a set of books including Chris Anderson's Free, The Long Tale, Clay Shirk's Here Comes Everybody, The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman and The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick that help to explain what is happening in the 21st century sociologically, economically and politically. These new trends created predominately by the Internet and then radically expanded by human ingenuity and creativity are moving our world in rapid and exciting ways.
I intend to listen to this book again because I source it often at work. It's a good and easy read that highlights the phenomenon of group intelligence. It would have been a 5 if it would address the new threat that too much unfiltered information poses to this; i.e. the internet + anyone with a computer can post something = misinformed public.
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