Collective Ideas – A Path to Greater Decisions?

Given our complex modern society, one could question if the key for building a better world is wider collaborative behaviour among us. Imagine that  larger groups are potentially more intelligent than the smartest person in a group of “ experts.” Human connection can expand itself through collaboration if we just investigate further very simple but relevant examples of such action.

James Surowiecki on his book  The Wisdom of Crowds (2004) illustrates how collective intelligence can be efficient. Take for instance the TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?,” when a player requests help he can either choose the collective knowledge or individual knowledge. He can choose a phone call to a friend or a poll of the audience to find the right answer. The results illustrate very clear and, even surprisingly, that collective knowledge answers right every time. The random audience gave the correct answers  91 % of the time when compared to the expert called on the phone which answered correctly only 65 % of the time. This simplistic case can greatly open the doors to rethinking our ways in accomplishing better achievements.

Collective intelligence can transform how we connect on many different levels. Take for instance, businesses and civil societies that can make use of  this “collective intelligence collaboration” for problem-solving or innovation. In the business arena, companies like Lego have launched online platforms where users contribute to designing products. Lego Ideas is an online service started in 2008, which enables users to give ideas for Lego products that could be turned into sets for the market after gaining 10,000 supporters online. The original designer receives 1% of the total sale of products. This also sheds light on the discussion of to what extent it is  appropriate for big corporations to massively profit from very good ideas as these serve as a source of “cheaper” labour.  

Another very curious example is the TipJar, a platform launched by Google that sought best answers on how to save money. The platform was interestly  launched during the global financial crisis of 2009.  

Surowiecki’s examples range from technology to social life. One could argue that collective knowledge is beneficial and could definitely achieve great outcomes. Not only for the purpose of upgrading or controlling the consumer’s choice in the market, collective wisdom also has been used to connect people wishing to solve challenging world issues. In 2000, the United Nations launched a global platform for volunteers and organizations (UNV), which seeks to connect different people from all corners of the world in order to address sustainable development challenges. This is certainly a vital tool for people with different backgrounds to expand their social network and create a diverse online volunteerism.

What makes an intelligent crowd?

An  important part of this is that in order to become an intelligent crowd and give correct answers, the group must hold some characteristics. Diversity is the main characteristic for successful collective knowledge. For instance, Wikipedia has diverse authors adding freely to the encyclopedia and that has been a source of major criticism towards the reliability of the content. However in 2005, the journal, Nature, compared two main online encyclopaedias (Britannica and Wikipedia) in various sectors and found the same rate of errors and omissions. The diverse Wikipedia writers are not far from being as accurate as a group of paid experts and professionals.  

This adds to our  idea of human collaboration even further as all indicates that diverse minds do better, and therefore they do matter. Another study that exposes the importance of diversity is the study conducted by Scott Page (University of Michigan) and Lu Hong (Loyola University) in 2004. They concluded that a diverse group of problem-solvers accomplished a better collective guess than the guess given by the group of best-performing solvers. It can be seen that collective wisdom has entered many areas of our lives. It is used for decision-making, creating and sharing knowledge. All the examples discussed so far consist of a vast knowledge of people from different fields, which leads to collective intelligence.  

Collaboration as the deepest form of human connection

It is obvious that humans are deeply intertwined in different ways.   This interdependence strongly depends on high levels of collaboration between people, and that is an experience present in our lives constantly. Our collective intelligence should definitely be more explored in order to expand our human connection and solve issues facing our planet and society. If we could increasingly engage in mutually beneficial collaborative interactions, then we could more easily overcome major issues such as climate change and poverty.

Letícia Santos

Photo Credit: Jordi Payà, CC BY-SA 2.0, Badalona, March 25, 2012