James Surowiecki has popularized the concept of The Wisdom of Crowds in his book of the same name, which ‘explores a deceptively simple idea that has profound implications: crowds 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 organizations are (or should be) organized and operate, how knowledge is advanced, and how we live our daily lives.’ The question is, how are we responding to these ramifications? How are we leveraging the wisdom of crowds in our organizations?

According to Surowiecki, there are four key qualities that make a crowd smart. It needs to be diverse, so that people are bringing different pieces of information to the table. It needs to be decentralized, so that no one at the top is dictating the crowd’s answer. It needs a way of summarizing people’s opinions into one collective verdict. And the people in the crowd need to be independent, so that they pay attention mostly to their own information, and not worrying about what everyone around them thinks.

Next week, our organization is hosting a week of meetings, bringing together in headquarters senior staff from our offices around the world. During these meetings, how smart will our crowd(s) be? How smart could it/they be? As session organizers, what can we do to make our crowds as smart as possible – better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future?

Returning to the office tomorrow, I’m going to have another look at our session designs and ask myself these questions, considering the extent to which our crowds will have the key qualities described. I will certainly come back to this in the coming days.

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