Of Committees, Teams, Mobs and CrowdsIf you've ever been on a committee, you know what I mean. If you've ever been on a team, you know what I mean as well. I guess I should qualify a little. In popular parlance, 'committee' has come to mean a group of people where the intelligence of the group is less than the dumbest single member. 'Team' on the other hand, while not so universally understood this way, means a functioning group of people who achieve more than any one individual could alone. As I said, I've been on both. (Ironically one of the 'committees' was part of a team building exercise, and I was one of the reasons it stayed a committee.) The are two distinguishing features; communication and commonality of goal. If the group is communicating well and there are no hidden agendas, there is a good chance that the team will achieve beyond what the indviduals could alone. If we extend these ideas a little we get to 'the wisdom of crowds', an observed phenomenon. A group (a large group this time) can predict better than any individual member of the group. This kind of crowd is distinct from a mob where all the members are emotionally swayed. Here again communication is important but common goals aren't. Among the technical crowd it is common to dismiss the idea of the wisdom of crowds based on personal experience with committees and hearsay of mobs. Perhaps the person has never been on a team and/or their behavior actively discourages team behavior (not unusual given some of the techies I know). The wisdom of crowds has some respectable research behind it, however, so I'll take that as a given. It is one of the things that make democracies work. So why do we all have this sneaking suspicion that an elite (which included us, of course) would do better? I'm not immune, but usually manage to rein myself in before somebody suggests I actually try to do something. Just as it's more comforting to blame problems on someone or something else, rather than the hard task of assessing my part in the problem and doing something about it, I suspect that it is easier to believe that if everybody did what I said, the world would be a better place. Truth is, it wouldn't, and it would be duller too.
4 Feb 2009
Copyright © 2009 Truck Smith