The concept of ‘idea markets’ has been gaining fame ever since James Surowiecki wrote his book on crowd wisdom back in 2005. If you want answers, don’t just go to just one person—go to many people! But is crowd intelligence always the best choice?
A recent study in Seoul aimed to put this to the test. Researchers took 500 people and gave each 8 tasks. The tasks ranged from easy (what is the high temperature in Seoul today?) to hard (if all poor people in the world gave you $1 each, how much sustainable monthly income could you derive from the resulting amount?). How did people do on their own versus in a crowd?
When it came to the easy tasks, both the crowd and those on their own performed the same, but that was to be expected. The weather outside is pretty much a black and white matter. It was the harder tasks that raised a few eyebrows - people did better on their own. When faced with tasks they couldn't answer, people in a crowd just started guessing. Researchers couldn’t make heads or tails out of the results. There was no consensus, just a bunch of random answers. Collective intelligence failed.
It was the mid-range tasks that saw a hugh jump in crowd performance over those who worked on their own. The tasks needed info from a wide range of sources, so access to a group of people proved to be the best asset. Those on their own could only rely on their own knowledge, and often came up short.
The lesson from this research is that crowd intelligence can beat out a single mind, but only if the crowd can grasp the task at hand. Ensure your tasks are not too easy or too hard – ones just right – and the crowd will come through. Research proves it!