“The more homogeneous groups talk to each other, the dumber they get.” J.Surowiecki
I loved this Keynote talk by James Surowiecki. The idea of letting the group decide has always troubled me and now I know why – like so many other great ideas, most implementations have lost the key tenets that make the concept work. Putting a bunch of people in a room and asking them to decide on some new direction will almost always fail – quoting the Despair.com web page –
“None of us is as dumb as all of us.”
However, using a properly formed question, applied to a sufficiently independent and diverse group can lead to great, surprising results. James Surowiecki named three key conditions that must hold for the Wisdom of Crowds to work, I would like to add a fourth.
1) To get a collective judgment, different judgments must be aggregated.
a. See the opening quote on homogeneous groups
2) The group must exhibit cognitive diversity.
a. This is not the same as ethnic diversity, but ethnic diversity can lead to cognitive diversity.
b. The best decisions come from conflict, not immediate consensus.
3) The group must perform independent thought.
a. Rely upon their own knowledge, not a review of others work
4) The question must be formed in a way that the responses may be averaged or aggregated.
a. Pick a number, date, winner will work
b. Blue sky, “Tell us what you think” will not
This led me to a new line of thought and the required quandaries associated with mind expansion. Before leaving for Agile I had dinner with a few colleagues and, as is usually the case, we engaged in a pretty deep and somewhat contentious discussion while enjoying calamari and potato skins. To look at us one might have assumed that there was little diversity in the group – but to listen to us it was evident that there was significant cognitive diversity.
In the end we were all a little more informed, a few opinions were changed, some positions bolstered, and most of all, at least for me, the admiration and respect for my colleagues grew. This is where my quandary started. I realized, while listening to James Surowiecki that many of our company positions, policies, practices, and principles may appear to come from a homogeneous group. This led me to 2 important observations:
1) Most people would be reticent to disagree with a seemingly united group of company leaders
2) While disagreement, or “good fights,” may make some people uncomfortable, they may need to be more public to encourage independent thought and extreme views.
In a company and industry that relies on innovation to stay ahead, cognitive diversity must be nurtured and displayed.