Two’s Company, Three Is Smarter

James Surowiecki, New Yorker columnist and author of The Wisdom of Crowds was the first session we saw today. Sorry we didn’t live-blog, but we got there late. Better late than live, we always say.

With the thump of rock music next door, Surowiecki discussed three aspects of his book that could be applied to web design or any kind of interaction or decision-making, for that matter.

“Diversity makes the world smart.”

“Don’t rely on experts, the problem with experts is that they don’t have a good sense of what they know and what they don’t know.”

“Let people come to decisions on their own.”

Knowing is half the battle: The “Devil’s Advocate” was a position created by the Catholic Church in the 13th century, just so someone could articulate the opposite of the current moral argument, because it would help them strengthen their own opinion on the matter. It was also a pretty good Keanu movie.

And this is the other half of that battle: The submarine U.S.S. Scorpion was lost in the North Atlantic in 1968. The military hired a diverse crowd of experts and came up with scenarios of what might have happened. They asked the experts to bet on the scenarios, mapped the odds and the submarine ended up being 220 yards away from where they said it would be.

In the Q & A, Surowiecki said he can’t apply his philosophies to art or design because they’re “subjective.” But he does say that collaboration and collectives are beneficial for artists. We would agree. He was also asked if groups can be good at forseeing potential innovations; he said it’s always one person who ultimately comes up with the idea.

We remembered Surowiecki’s conversation on Slate with Malcolm Gladwell on W.O.C. vs. Blink, which took place over a year ago. Gladwell, coincidentally, has his own blog now.

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