The Wisdom of the Crowd

Great minds think alike, apparently. But I’ve seen first-hand evidence that a great many minds all working on the same task can produce far more solutions, and better decisions, than any single member or handful – even when that handful includes genuine experts on the subject. This revelation was brilliantly demonstrated at the recent Inside Internal Comms Conference organised by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

The event, which took place on 7 November at The Oval Cricket Ground, was teeming with inspiring speakers and great new ideas. A lot of these didn’t require any technological input, but at the same time, the potential was there for many of them to incorporate and benefit from technology.

Just to set the scene for this inspirational event, I’d like to introduce Max McKeown - @maxmckeown – who wowed the audience with a giant pen, which he used to scribble on great white canvasses positioned around the stage. His message revolved around the past, present and future – each section occupying a third of the space, to form the shape of a bow tie. The Past (stage left) appeared convergent, the Future (stage right), divergent, while the Present was depicted in the central narrow band. Thankfully, Max spared the two projector screens, but by the end of his session he had managed to cover 12 square metres of canvas with his spectacular infographic. I have no doubt that members of the audience will retain a vivid memory of his entertaining and visually impactful session.

But back to the conference’s main theme - that of crowdsourcing -  a subject very close to my own heart. Throughout the event we saw how technology and other techniques can capture the wisdom of a crowd and produce a rich and varied mix of responses, which collectively solve problems, reveal insights and generate understanding. And this doesn’t have to be restricted to a crowd gathered together in the same space; thanks to technology contributors can be scattered all over the world.

Here at Crystal we’ve been able to help clients unleash this powerful process using interactive technology – in fact, you could say that it’s our core purpose. But it doesn’t always require technology to produce brilliant insights, as can be seen from this story.

Earlier this year, Managing Director Chris Elmitt, was asked to facilitate at an event organised by Rapport Events for their client, a Japanese pharmaceutical company. The event included a fascinating team-building exercise, which was led by Alan Chambers, the polar adventurer. He split the delegates into table teams, and challenged the teams to decide between them which, out of 75 options, would be the 50 items that he had selected to take with him on his very first polar expedition. Each of the 75 items was displayed on a playing card, so it was quick and easy for the table teams to pick their Top 50.

The teams had a huge incentive to win, because the reward for those who came up with the nearest match to his actual travel pack contents would get to sign a flag and have it taken by Alan to the South Pole. As souvenir photos go, that would be some trophy!

Being a former teacher and student of human nature, Chris played his part in ensuring a level playing field in what turned out to be quite an involved process. So once the teams had picked their Top 50 cards, Chris collected the remaining 25 from each table (just to be sure there were no after-the-event swaps). This gave Chris a heap of 750 cards, which he manually sorted. Intriguingly, Chris discovered how many polar bear repellent sprays were discarded in the heap; and how many teams had deemed a hat (for temperatures of  -50 degrees) or a toothbrush surplus to requirements!

The sorting process produced about 40 piles of cards, from which Chris identified the 25 most discarded cards. This, naturally, revealed the 50 cards that had been most selected across the board.

So where does crowdsourcing come into all this? The Top 50 that had been selected collectively by the entire group created by far and away the closest match to the actual items taken by Alan on his expedition. No single group – not even the tables that included mountaineers, experienced skiers and outdoor pursuits fanatics came up with a higher score. This is all the more fascinating considering that the entire audience was a total mix of backgrounds and experiences – including some less gung-ho individuals who might define Kew Gardens as The Great Outdoors.

From this we can say that it is possible for crowds to produce the best solutions and the best decisions. And in the events industry, an audience provides a ready-made crowd, offering the potential to generate new ideas, solve problems and identify key issues.

So even without the creativity of Rapport or the example of Alan Chambers we have the technological wherewithal to enable them to collectively produce wisdom.





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