The Wisdom of Crowds explores why, and under which circumstances, groups of people can come up with better solutions to problems than any one person – even if that person is an expert. By analyzing the way individuals and groups make decisions, the book gets to the bottom of the wisdom of crowds, and shows how this wisdom can be used to make reliable decisions.
Heterogeneous groups are often better at tackling problems than homogeneous ones. In a heterogeneous group – that is, a group of people with different ages, genders, religions and professions – each individual introduces new ideas and perspectives that would have never seen the light of day in a homogeneous one.
Homogeneous groups, such as those made up of experts, are often handicapped by the fact that their members’ skills and approaches are too similar. In other words, it is more difficult for them to consider counterarguments and think unconventionally.
America’s unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion under the Kennedy administration is one notorious example of how a homogeneous group’s opinion can have unfortunate consequences. The administration implemented its strategy for invading Cuba without consulting anybody who was skeptical of it. The historian Arthur Schlesinger, one of the experts present at the strategic meetings, stated later that the meetings had taken place “in a curious atmosphere of assumed consensus.”
Simply put, a homogeneous group’s weak variations of the same idea can’t compete with the heterogeneous group’s abundance of ideas. With its manifold perspectives and wider vantage point, a heterogeneous group can more easily identify and discard bad ideas.
However, this doesn’t mean that groups should exclude experts from joining their ranks. On the contrary: experts are indispensable because they bring to the table knowledge that others don’t have to the table. The danger lies in groups entirely made up of experts – especially if they are all experts in the same field.
The more diverse the group, the wiser its decisions.