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Tap into the wisdom of the masses

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in Leaders & Managers

Collective decision-making usually trumps individual expertise. It’s what James Surowiecki observed in The Wisdom of Crowds, and it undercuts our traditional faith in the lone decision-maker, aka the leader.

Two examples:
  1. At an English country fair in 1906, nearly 800 people, their estimates averaged, guessed the weight of a 1,198- pound ox to within a pound.

  2. After a U.S. Navy sub vanished in 1968, a group including mathematicians, salvage crews and submarine experts were asked to guess where it sank. Individually, they were way off, but combined, their guesses pinpointed the sub to within 220 yards.

Here’s one way to apply group decision-making:
  • Set up a diverse group of 20 people to bet on the answer to a question, such as which new product will sell best. Hewlett-Packard did it to predict printer sales, and the volunteers were more accurate than HP’s forecasters.

    Note: The group must be diverse in terms of knowledge, skills and point of view, and decentralized in location and information.

  • Keep your decision-makers anonymous. Honest opinions inside any group suffer from politics, personal agendas, sycophants and confusing status with wisdom.

  • Respect your own limitations, even if you’re an expert. The tendency is to believe that you alone possess God’s honest truth. Cede your decision to the group.
—Adapted from “Smarter Than You,” Michael S. Hopkins, Inc.

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