We’re a society that lauds experts – the more specialized, the more impressive. In our careers we strive to become more specialized, because we’re told that as you acquire more expertise you become more valuable as an employee. Hence, your march up the career ladder is more assured.
What’s more, we’re obsessed with gleaning advice from these experts. When should I sell my house? What stock should I buy? How many jobs will the economy add next month?
Yet, in a world where everything is becoming increasingly inter-connected does it really still pay to be a true expert in one particular field? For instance, the property market in London could be influenced by any number of factors – the UK’s domestic economy, the price of steel in China, or Greece’s ability to manage its sovereign debt. How many UK property market experts understand the subtleties of all three?
There’s an interesting theory put forward by The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki in his book entitled “The Wisdom of Crowds”. His main theory centers on the idea that a diverse crowd of individuals is more likely to make accurate predictions regarding certain types of decisions better than individual experts in any particular field. A sort of crowd-sourcing for decision-making.
He argues that there are four main elements in order to form a wise crowd:
Diversity of opinion – each person should have access to their own private information, which ensures that a variety of perspectives are incorporated into the discussion.
Independence – people’s opinions aren’t influenced or determined by those around them.
Decentralization – people are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge
Aggregation – a mechanism exists through which individual feedback can be turned into a collection decision.
Instead of relying on the opinion of one or two people, the focus should be on forming a wise crowd in order to guide effective decision making.
This theory has far ranging implications for more than policy makers. Consider it the next time you make a decision regarding your own career, when you’re building a team, or running a project. Does your crowd satisfy the four main elements?
Who are you relying on for the right information – the expert or the crowd?
Photo: Above photograph used under CC license
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