The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

The Stupidity of Crowds

I have a lot of favorite bloggers.  I think I’ve tipped my virtual hat over to Rob Millard quite often here, but I was going backwards in time reading some of his old posts and got to reflecting on an old post if his on the “stupidity of crowds.”  We are, I am confident, soon heading into a Web 2.0 business world filled with social media that will have many of us interacting on-line and creating knowledge.  Whether this knowledge is wise, accurately interpreted, and leads to valuable innovation seems to be a conclusion we’ve already agreed upon.  Perhaps it’s reasonable to question this conclusion however.  Millard states:

Conventional wisdom holds that crowds are “wise” and that all things being equal, the more inclusive a decision making process and the larger the number of people in a group making a decision, the more likely the “correct” decision will emerge.

In his landmark book on this topic, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowieki asserts that the conclusions of a large group can often be better than those of a small group of experts, simply because large groups can aggregate a large amount of dispersed wisdom. 1

As Millard states, the wisdom of crowds is wholly dependent on the idea that large numbers of people can consume larger amounts of data.  However, in practice, it seems to me that large numbers of people simply consume the same small amounts of data that is fed to them from the experts.  Therefore, it’s still the small number of experts that collect and synthesize data into innovations.  Perhaps as the data is being synthesized, external non-experts can contribute perspective, they are probably not a part of the innovation process.  Without the experts doing most of the heavy lifting, I’m not sure I really want the masses creating my innovative wisdom.

Perhaps all social medias are really going to do is identify the experts, and bring them together in a simplified fashion.  The question is how we’ll identify those experts, and how we minimize the negative impact when a non-expert is mis-identified.  Theoretically, social medias will provide some sort of a self vetting process, but HR will also need to apply competency and skill databases to ensure that social medias are working optimally.  Last thing we need is for us to enhance collaboration between those who have no business collaborating in certain topics.  Let’s keep it to the experts, so let’s make sure we apply our talent databases as we deploy our social medias.


  1. Millard, Rob, September 28, 2006.  “The Stupidity of Crowds.”  Retrieved from http://www.robmillard.com on July 13, 2008. [back]

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