If a collection of unbelievably individually stupid and irrational creatures can create something wonderful and self-sustaining – why do so many big businesses really, really, suck at doing either? By that I mean doing something wonderful or self-sustaining. That’s what I thought when listening toradiolab’s rebroadcast of emergence. Seriously. Certainly a collection of educated people should outperform a field full of fireflies, a bee-hive or colony of ants? But that’s not always the case.
The one glimmer of hope I took for humanity and the internet from this podcast was an example from Francis Galton’s observation at a county fair. In it, a collection of ordinary people generally presumed to be unfamiliar with the actual weight of oxen guessed at it’s weight. No single person was correct. However, the average of the all of the guesses was remarkably close.
It’s essentially how google works and part of what makes twitter so great. I believe and hope this is how democratic societies and the internet can work going forward. The collective of non-expert masses, or the wisdom of crowds, when applying themselves to do their best, can be collectively smarter than a small group of experts. The key is applying themselves to do their best.
So why do businesses fail? Sometimes while there may be collection of people, the actual decisions and action are only taken by a select few. Hence, it’s not really a crowd. It’s a few people with many underneath them. Another scenario is that often there are people at all levels doing less than their best, or working contrary to best interests of the organization. In either case, their colony – and their work – ultimately perishes. They get outworked by ants. Outsmarted by bees.
C’mon people, set a high bar for yourself, and your work.