Synopses & Reviews
“No one in this world, so far as I know, has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” —H. L. Mencken
H. L. Mencken was wrong.
In this endlessly fascinating book, New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea that has profound implications: large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.
This seemingly counterintuitive notion has endless and major ramifications for how businesses operate, how knowledge is advanced, how economies are (or should be) organized and how we live our daily lives. With seemingly boundless erudition and in delightfully clear prose, Surowiecki ranges across fields as diverse as popular culture, psychology, ant biology, economic behaviorism, artificial intelligence, military history and political theory to show just how this principle operates in the real world.
Despite the sophistication of his arguments, Surowiecki presents them in a wonderfully entertaining manner. The examples he uses are all down-to-earth, surprising, and fun to ponder. Why is the line in which you’re standing always the longest? Why is it that you can buy a screw anywhere in the world and it will fit a bolt bought ten-thousand miles away? Why is network television so awful? If you had to meet someone in Paris on a specific day but had no way of contacting them, when and where would you meet? Why are there traffic jams? What’s the best way to win money on a game show? Why, when you walk into a convenience store at 2:00 A.M. to buy a quart of orange juice, is it there waiting for you? What do Hollywood mafia movies have to teach us about why corporations exist?
The Wisdom of Crowds is a brilliant but accessible biography of an idea, one with important lessons for how we live our lives, select our leaders, conduct our business, and think about our world.
"While our culture generally trusts experts and distrusts the wisdom of the masses, New Yorker business columnist Surowiecki argues that 'under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.' To support this almost counterintuitive proposition, Surowiecki explores problems involving cognition (we're all trying to identify a correct answer), coordination (we need to synchronize our individual activities with others) and cooperation (we have to act together despite our self-interest). His rubric, then, covers a range of problems, including driving in traffic, competing on TV game shows, maximizing stock market performance, voting for political candidates, navigating busy sidewalks, tracking SARS and designing Internet search engines like Google. If four basic conditions are met, a crowd's 'collective intelligence' will produce better outcomes than a small group of experts, Surowiecki says, even if members of the crowd don't know all the facts or choose, individually, to act irrationally. 'Wise crowds' need (1) diversity of opinion; (2) independence of members from one another; (3) decentralization; and (4) a good method for aggregating opinions. The diversity brings in different information; independence keeps people from being swayed by a single opinion leader; people's errors balance each other out; and including all opinions guarantees that the results are 'smarter' than if a single expert had been in charge. Surowiecki's style is pleasantly informal, a tactical disguise for what might otherwise be rather dense material. He offers a great introduction to applied behavioral economics and game theory. Agent, Chris Calhoun. (On sale May 18) Forecast: While armchair social scientists (e.g., readers of The Tipping Point) will find this book interesting, college economics, math, statistics and finance students could really profit from spending time with Surowiecki. National author promos and print ads will attract buyers." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[T]he author argues persuasively that collective wisdom works better than the intelligent fiat of any individual....There is some individual, independent wisdom to be found here." Kirkus Reviews
"This work is an intriguing study of collective intelligence and how it works in contemporary society. Recommended." Library Journal
"The Wisdom of Crowds is dazzling. It is one of those books that will turn your world upside down. It's an adventure story, a manifesto, and the most brilliant book on business, society, and everyday life that I've read in years."
Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point
"This book should be in every thinking businessperson's library. Without exception. At a time when corporate leaders have shown they're not always deserving of our trust, James Surowiecki has brilliantly revealed that we can trust each other. That we count. That our collective effort is far more important than the lofty predictions of those CEO-kings we have worshipped for too long." Po Bronson, author of What Should I Do With My Life?
"Jim Surowiecki has done the near impossible. He's taken what in other hands would be a dense and difficult subject and given us a book that is engaging, surprising, and utterly persuasive. The Wisdom of Crowds will change the way you think about markets, economics, and a large swatch of everyday life." Joe Nocera, editorial director of Fortune magazine and author of A Piece of the Action
"It has become increasingly recognized that the average opinions of groups is frequently more accurate than most individuals in the group. As a special case, economists have spoken of the role of markets in assembling dispersed information. The author has written a most interesting survey of the many studies in this area and discussed the limits as well as the achievements of self-organization." Kenneth Arrow, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and Professor of Economics (Emeritus), Stanford University
"James Surowiecki, financial columnist for the New Yorker, builds a fascinating case....The Wisdom of Crowds is a subtly intelligent book that's fun to argue with: if it becomes a best seller, that will of course confirm the author's thesis." Time
"The author has a knack for translating the most algebraic of research papers into bright expository prose." Scott McLemee, The New York Times Book Review
"Surowiecki is the New Yorker
's business columnist, and at times his book feels like a series of carefully constructed pieces rather than a whole work. Still, he writes with the patience and geniality of a beloved professor, and his arguments are invariably witty and to the point. The Wisdom of Crowds
draws a clear, erudite picture of the mechanisms by which our mass society works, and it is a refreshingly hopeful one." Anna Godbersen, Esquire
(read the entire Esquire review
"The performance of groups is a wonderful subject, and Surowiecki has a remarkable eye for the telling anecdote, illustrating abstract claims with vivid examples. His central point is convincing. Groups, and even crowds, can be wiser than most and sometimes even all of their members, at least if they aggregate information. But there is a serious problem with Surowiecki's discussion: he does not provide an adequate account of the circumstances that make crowds wise or stupid..." Cass R. Sunstein, The New Republic
(read the entire New Republic review
A revolutionary look at the way the world works by the New Yorker's "Financial Page" columnist.
A leading expert shows how to use the power of social media and crowd wisdom to improve our work and personal lives
Whether we need to make better financial choices, find the love of our life, or transform our career, crowdsourcing is the key to making quicker, wiser, more objective decisions. But few of us even come close to tapping the full potential of our online personal networks.
Lior Zoref offers proven guidelines for applying what he calls mind sharing” in new ways. For instance, he shows how a mothers Facebook update saved the life of a four-year-old boy, and how a manager used LinkedIn to create a years worth of market research in less than a day.
Zorefs clients are using his techniques to innovate and problem-solve in record time. Now he reveals how crowdsourcing has the ability to supercharge our thinking and upgrade every aspect of our lives.
About the Author
SUROWIECKI is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he writes the popular business column, “The Financial Page.” His work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Artforum, Wired, and Slate. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.