James Surowieki

The New Yorker

Independent Individuals and Wise Crowds
28 minutes, 12.9mb, recorded 2005-03-16
James Surowieki
In technophile circles, the idea that networks and network effects will inherently provide for better decision making is an understood, a truism widely agreed. Author and New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki, argues that while there are many benefits to aggregate decision making, there are several perils and misbehavior that individuals and observers would be wise to take into account.

Drawing on research for his recent book The Wisdom of Crowds, Surowiecki explores several areas in which a group's process can result in improper decisions. These failures are traced to the problem of individual humans acting when aware of their membership - the irony of group wisdom is that it is only when a group is unaware of its intelligence that it can be effective. In aggregate, individuals in groups can fall into one of two behavioral traps - either herd behavior (where the group will inherently move in one direction), or imitative behavior, where each member of the group will, for rational reasons, become like any other member of the group.

Upon exploring these contradictions, Surowiecki provides several 'food for thought' points by which actors can make better decisions by maintaining weak rather than strong ties with other group members and by tuning into a cacophony of contrary opinions rather than the self-reinforcing common opinions of a small group.

James Surowiecki is the a staff writer at the New Yorker for the Financial Page. Surowiecki has contributed as writer and editor to many publications, including Slate, Fortune, and the New York Times Magazine. Hiss most recent book is The Wisdom of Crowds.


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