NECC Opening: Diversity Matters Published 2008-06-30 under ,

iste Why is the wisdom of the crowd greater than the smarts of the most intelligent individual? James Surowiecki explains in his keynote at NECC.

My NECC experience began yesterday with a very engaging keynote address by James Surowiecki. His basic premise is that a mass of people has greater intelligence than the smartest single individual - the The Wisdom of Crowds,. Of course there are some conditions for this phenomenon to hold true, the most interesting for me being the requirement that the mass be a diverse group. The principle is that the a wide range of ideas (even if some are really out there) will lead to a better solution than a narrow set of "informed" ideas.

Surowiecki offered several stories that illustrate this principle the last involving the search for a lost submarine in the 60's. After loosing communication with one of its subs, the Navy assembled its top folks to coordinate a search. After the search was unable to uncover the sub, someone put together a team of very diverse individual including those you would expect (e.g. sub commanders and navigation experts) as well as some you would not expect (e.g. mathematicians). The group came up with several scenarios and then were asked to bet on which of the scenarios each thought was the most likely. This process resulted in a location that turned out to be within a couple of hundred yards from the sub. The diverse mass did better (much better) than the group of experts the Navy put together.

Surowiecki's keynote reminded me of two books that have been very influential to me. The first is "Medici Effect " by Frans Johansson that suggests one ingredient for innovation is access or association with a diverse group of people. Rarely are innovation born from like-minded people sitting around brainstorming on how to improve a process. What they usually come up with is an incremental improvement on the process, not an innovation - a revolutionary change in the process. If you have not read this book, please do. It gives us a model for our professional development: namely, we should look toward diverse sources for our learning.

The other book of which Surowiecki's message reminded me is "Made to Stick " by the Heath brothers. For me, the connection is in the form of Surowiecki's message. He has followed the six principles of creating a idea that will stick with us: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Stories. Interestingly, Amazon partners "Made to Stick" with Surowiecki's "Wisdom of Crowds".

While some may have come away from the keynote questioning its relevance to education and work in the classroom, I found it engaging and timely offering motivation for teaching the skills of collaboration, problem solving, and even probability/statistics.

Here are some links to the books mentioned in this post

Tech Tags: