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Mirror(s) mirror(s) on the wall – what should I do if at all? - Wisdom of the crowd

Shai Davidov, Senior Teaching Fellow

Faculty Blog

Imagine that every important decision you make is made with the help of many smart people. Any question you ask can be answered based on the collective opinions, wisdom and experience of others, many others. It is called wisdom of the crowd. It simply means taking the average over a large number of responses (group of individuals) rather than a single expert (an individual); believing it will reduce the effect of variance on the possible answers.

Praise-08-782013A few weeks ago I took part in an experiment run by the Israeli Ministry of Science, Technology and Space in which some 600 people were challenged to answer the question "How much salt does the Dead Sea contain?". The Dead Sea got its name due to the fact that its salinity (which is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean) makes a harsh environment in which animals and plants cannot flourish.

So, back to the question of how much salt is there in such a high salinity body of water? Some of the participants have tried to calculate the result according to few hints provided by the experimenters. About 10% of participants pinpointed an answer of 42.7 Billion tons of salt. The rest of the participants answers varied between Trillions of tons and 0.0004 Billion tons. The 'scientific' answer calculated by experts was 42.8 Billion tons of salt!

Another interesting experiment can be watched here, where the crowds were asked to estimate the weight of an ox.

Many of us already make use of the wisdom of the crowd via our social networks. Should I buy this? Should I wear that? Your friends are there for an immediate verdict. Could we use the wisdom of the crowd in project management? Yes we can and we do, but on a much smaller scale. I wish I had 600 people to help me estimate costs, time and resources for different projects …  in the meantime, practices like the Delphi technique can be used to gather experts' views for better decision making (discussed in Module 3 of the EBS Project Management course text).

Don't ever underestimate your project team members' experience. Collectively, they are wiser than you!