What is the value of the "wisdom of the crowd"?

John W Lewis's picture
Chat Date: 
Thu, Nov 17, 2016

Thank you to Kim Flum, @KimFlum, for providing his week's #innochat topic. Kim is a regular innocat and is particularly interested in innovation and communities. This is her framing of the topic.

What is the value of using the "wisdom of the crowd" in the innovation process?

The collective wisdom of the crowd is smarter than the individual, at least when it comes to answering specific types of questions.

‘Collective wisdom’ is put to good use to tackle three kinds of problems, and complexity is no bar:
Cognition problems: such problems arise when we can only guess the answer – as e.g. about the contents of the jelly bean jar, or about the future. How do we get the guess right?
Coordination problems: how do we coordinate behaviour with each other – say in traffic – knowing that everyone else is trying to do the same?
Cooperation problems: how do we get self-interested, distrustful people to work together, even when narrow self-interest would seem to dictate that no individual should take part – as in politics?

Source: "The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many are Smarter than the Few",  James Surowiecki 

The theory is that a group of diverse individuals (a crowd) has more knowledge than any one person (an expert). If coordinated in the right way, this collective knowledge can solve problems and answer questions more accurately than an expert.

Note: the “wisdom of the crowd” is similar to, but different from, “crowdsourcing”. Crowdsourcing is a specific type of sourcing model in which organizations use contributions (primarily from the Internet/social media users) to obtain services or ideas. The "wisdom of the crowd" is utilizing the collective opinion of a group of individuals (rather than that of a single expert) to answer a specific question. For the purpose of this discussion, we can consider both.

Additional Resources:

"'Wisdom of the crowd': The myths and realities", Philip Ball, BBC Worldwide

"The power and danger of online crowds", James Surowiecki, TED talk

"Crowdsourcing and The Wisdom of the Crowds", Venkatesh Rao, Ribbon farm blog


During #innochat on Thursday November 17, 2016, starting at 12 noon Eastern time, let's discuss the "wisdom of the crowd" in connection with innovation, based on the following questions:

  1. How useful is the "wisdom of the crowd" for helping innovators to find answers to specific questions?
  2. What examples do you have of you or other people using the "wisdom of the crowd" for innovation?
  3. How does engaging with crowds (groups of diverse individuals) help or hinder innovation?
  4. How can the "wisdom of the crowd" be kept focused and productive, especially if using social media?
  5. What type of innovation questions are best solved using the wisdom of the crowd


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