Mob mentality

I recently finished reading James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds. Encapsulating a book in a blog entry’s not easy and rarely useful, but I’ll try it just the same. Under the right conditions, which are far more common than we’d imagine, the collective intelligence of a group is better than that of its smartest member. Anyone caught in a traffic jam in Boston would debate this vigorously, but that’s a situation where collective intelligence shines.

So it was with much interest that I read today that a minor league baseball team in Illinois has decided to allow fans to vote on its starting lineup. This is a nearly perfect situation for Surowiecki’s theories to shine. I’m absolutely certain that over the course of the season, the voters will do better than a manager would.

From today’s Boston Globe:

The Schaumburg Flyers, an independent team west of Chicago, yesterday declared that from here on in, fans will take over managerial duties for the team.Through Internet voting, the public will decide the team’s batting order, pitching rotation, and which players to trade. Even the style of team uniforms could go up for a vote. Yesterday, fans took control of their first managerial task — deciding which nine players to start in the game — and, over the next several weeks, the team plans to give them the rest of the managerial duties as well.

How can we use this approach in our industry? Take programming and distribution platform decisions out of the hands of a few executives and open it up to a larger group of studio employees. To give everyone an incentive to take this seriously, those whose picks are correct most often are rewarded. The rewards wouldn’t have to be huge. In most organizations bragging rights alone give people enough reason to take such an exercise seriously.

The CIA got slammed for trying something similar with FutureMAP’s Policy Analysis Market in 2003. Some people found the ability of members of the public to profit from correctly predicting terrorist attacks to be somewhat distasteful. Isn’t that exactly what we pay the head of the CIA to do? Just the same, I don’t think anyone will raise objections when its the future of Two and Half Men on the table.

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