Posts Tagged ‘wisdom of crowds’
Entertainment, Featured - Written Wednesday, April 1, 2009 by Alan Majer - 7 Comments
Thanks to a recommendation by my colleague Naumi Haque, I recently finished reading, “World War Z: An Oral history of the Zombie War.” Great book.
What I liked most about the book was the clever variety of well thought out characters and scenarios. How would people, companies, and institutions fare if plunged into a full scale zombie war – an unusual question, but one that the book tackles with great relish. Interestingly, one of the scenarios described in the book gave me a new insight into wikinomics (see other wikinomics zombie mentions here, here, and here). [if you plan to read the book, stop here, minor spoiler ahead]
There’s one event described early in the zombie wars which pits America’s military might and technology against an invading army of mindless zombies. The book does a great job of describing a modern battlefield technology which allows combatants in the field to communicate and exchange information with one another (including live video transmitted by others). The description got me thinking… wow, great stuff, wikinomics, distributed collaboration, and collective intelligence in action. Cool. Sure enough, I was duped. It turned out (in this fictional case at least) that this advanced battlefield technology contributed to the mighty army’s defeat. Instead of spreading intelligence and coordinating responses across the troops, it helped spread panic. Frightening visuals of defeat and voiced fears were instantly shared with everyone… and the result was a frightened mob, not orderly action from soldiers. In the end, the higher ups had to turn off the video feeds and try to reassure people that all was well (and by that time it was not).
The lesson for me is that succeeding with wikinomics takes much more than just simply connecting people. A crowd can be “smart”, or it can be a mindless mob too. While James Surowiecki wrote about “The Wisdom of Crowds,” in 2004, I highly recommend Charles Mackay’s counterpoint written in 1841 called “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.” Crowds, even when highly connected via digital technology, do not automatically become smarter. In fact, as Mackay observed, sometimes they become mad and delusional too. The difference is less about the process of magically connecting people, but more about the architecture for connecting them. HOW people are connected, seems to make the difference between wisdom and madness… call it appropriate collaborative architecture. At the moment, finding the right collaborative architecture appears as much art as it is science, but we have lots of examples (and smart community builders) to point the way. Perhaps readers of this blog can share their own insights into these principles.