"The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations"
from a review in the Christian Science Monitor
"Under the right circumstances," James Surowiecki argues, "groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them."This would explain the dearth of wisdom coming out of the Bush White House. Not only is the administration ripe with "evil and foolish influences," it fails to achieve the three criteria necessary for wisdom: independence, diversity and decentralization.
Crowds have a pretty bad rep. When evil or foolish influences rise to the fore, they ignite mob rule, lynching, financial panic, and styling trends like the mustache or jock-hawk.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, however, the mathematics work so long as Surowiecki's three key criteria - independence, diversity, and decentralization - are satisfied. "If you ask a large enough group," he says, "to make a prediction or estimate a probability," the errors they make cancel each other out. "Subtract the error, and you're left with the information."
In one section, Surowiecki describes how the US blundered into the Bay of Pigs because the decisionmaking group - the president and his advisers - all shared similar conceptions and assumptions. In short, the group lacked diversity and, as a result, demonstrated a colossal example of the failings of groupthink.