As I finished up the Audio Book, “The Wisdom of Crowds“, by James Surowiecki, I came away with some interesting observations. This book was an insightful read and some of the information presented went against common sense. Here are some of the highlights.
1. Crowd think can be useful for finding people and places. In my first post on the book I posed this question…
If you had to meet someone in New York on a specific day but had no way of contacting them, when and where would you meet?
The responses to this question were very interesting with most of the comments saying the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. In the book the majority of group think said Grand Central Station. This was an interesting anomaly and I went back to the book to find the original demographic that was questioned. It turns out that the original group was law students going to school in New York City. This makes sense as most law students would be very familiar with Grand Central Station whereas most of the readers of this blog do not live in New York and would not be familiar with their transit system.
The time chosen was a little more uniform with most people selecting 12 noon. The second most popular answer was 5pm. In the demographic of readers of this blog we would probably have a 40-50 percent chance of finding each other in New York on a given day. Given the size of New York State (over 47,000 square miles) and the fact there are 24 hours in a day this is pretty amazing
This study was based on a work by Thomas C Schelling. He suggests that in many situations, there are salient landmarks or “focal points” upon which peoples expectations converge. Schelling’s findings are important because it shows that people can find their way to the same place without a centralized direction and without talking with each other. These focal points are often referred to as “Schelling points.” These points suggest that peoples experiences of the world are often similar, which make coordination easier. Schelling is a nobel prize winning economist and has written extensively on subjects ranging from game theory to taxation policy.
When thinking of different “Schelling points” around the United States, some come to mind rather quickly. If you said Seattle, the Space Needle stands out, if you said St. Louis, the Arch comes to mind, and if you said Las Vegas, the Stratosphere would have to be near the top of the list.
It is very interesting to think of entire countries and what their “focal points” would be. How many of you would meet me at the Eiffel Tower in France at 12 noon? How about the Sydney Opera House in Australia… would you meet me at noon or some time in the evening? How about England, Germany or Japan… are there places that stick out in your mind that other people would think of?
This is a fascinating study and it would be very interesting to have a meetup of bloggers some place in the world on a given day and see how many would pick the same time and place.
2. In my second post from the book I posed this question…
Regis Philbin has just asked you a $2000 question on the show, “Who wants to be a Millionaire”.
Would it be best to…
- Listen to the Audience and take their advice
- Phone a friend and take their advice
- Reduce the answers from four to two and increase your odds by 50%
This was a very intriguing question to me. I would feel much more comfortable phoning a friend that I know and taking their advice. Asking the audience seems like a crap-shoot and reducing the odds is great but I still have to make a tough choice.
The actual show demographics are rather startling…
- The studio audience picked the right answer 91% of the time
- Phoning your friend resulted in the correct answer 65% of the time
- Reducing the choices gave you a 50% chance
Group intelligence versus individual intelligence. While this game show study is not scientific it is very important especially if you have money on the line and it tends to go against common sense. And that is what “The Wisdom of Crowds” is all about.
Under certain circumstances the crowd can be brilliant.
Hmmmm… If we picked California where would we meet?
The Golden Gate Bridge
The Staples Center