Frida Sandin

Why canalising the collective intelligence turns us into leaders

I have recently finished reading the book 'The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few' by James Surowiecki and I can strongly recommend it to anyone that is interested in how opinions are conformed, and why self-organisation might be the key to success.

One of the core messages in this book, that groups don’t have to be dominated by exceptionally intelligent people to be smart, sparked a vast line of thoughts in my mind and I’ll try to serve some of the more uncluttered ones here.

Much of our thinking, intelligence and decisions are a bi-product of the impressions and thoughts served to us by the environment, if you surround yourself with people that challenge your thinking norms, you will develop your thinking skills. Experience tells me that there is such a thing as thinking skills, which isn’t connected to the formal definition of intelligence or even communication skills, but simply a way of prioritising, filtering and maximizing the use of our thoughts and every day impressions.

Our human core isn’t designed to make fast and smart decisions based solely on ‘intelligence’. To be able to make good, timley and effective decision in our everyday life we seek the help of our peers.

This is not something that we may even be aware of as we dont make an active decision to seek, but its simply something that we do – some better than others – by simulating social and collective intelligence, or what we perceive to be intelligence, from the people around us. None of us are as smart or as dumb as we think, however the human race has developed the deep skill of survival by canalising the collective intelligence from the people around us. Its what Kevin Kelly called the 5th dimension of "no one is as smart as everyone." Its possibly the same reason a herd of wildebeest bolts on the suspicion of one wildebeest that there is a preditor in the long grass.The fact is that there is a level of collective alertness that makes the herd react and survive. If there wasent this level the herd will exaust itself very fast as ther react to every possible movement in the grass.

However, collective intelligence is also in fact what behavioral merchandising is all about, applying the collective intelligence used everyday and turning it into e-commerce sales. We all live our lives under the assumption that the more information we have, the better decisions we will make. This combined with the fact that human beings are lazy by nature, is part of what make recommendations so successful – the more ingestable information we get in the shortest amount of time, the better the decisions we make.

So for eCom merchants, the way to success within this field often lies in handling big data in an efficient and insightful way, that makes use of the collective intelligence yet still take the diversity of the input into consideration. In order to create business in a future orientated way, you need to listen to what is NOT working as well as what IS working. With that data you can figure out which collective guess will be the most accurate and produce recommendations that will make both your customers and their consumers happy and all by tapping into the collective intelligence of the other people using your site.

Good software in this area is based on avoiding putting forward irrelevant products. An aspect which from an outside perspective can easily be forgotten. However, when you present a irrelevant product for a consumer you aren’t just hurting your direct conversion and sales, you are also strongly communicating that the customer’s needs come second to your sales one of the most fatal messages you can put out there.

Consequently, Analysing less successful products is as important as putting forward the successful ones, as it is ultimately the less lucrative products that will define the notion of ‘success’.

 “The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few”


Posted by Phoenix, 22 September 2011

Now that you have read this very old book, also spend some time reading the criticisms of this wisdom-of-crowds philosophy. When the crowds are wrong, they lead to major debacles.

Delving into the subject will reveal to you that the wisdom is not so much of the crowds, but from incremental contributions by many (n > 1) people over time, but people who deserve to contribute wisdom. Crowds, comprising of hoi polloi, don't usually have a lot of intelligence.

Posted by Matthew, 24 September 2011

This may have a narrow application in the field of marketing, but society is replete with examples of the failure of "collective intelligence".
- Witch-burnings.
- Homeopathy.
- Anti-vaccine scares.
Collective opinion shaped by media disinformation, eg Iraq's non-existent WMDs.
Oh, and, so often, the results of democratic elections, again, shaped and influenced by misinformation campaigns.

One area where I've been reading about the pernicious effects of undue weight being accorded to "collective intelligence" is in health spending: demand for nonsense like Reiki and Homeopathy exists, and people are conning health administrators into spending money on it by using variations on this "collective intelligence" argument.

Ultimately, if you restrict yourself to marketing, then "collective intelligence" is just another example of the salesman's malleable sense of ethics. (What's wrong with "truth"?).
Extended to other realms, though, it becomes the well known fallacious argument called "appeal to popularity", and the use of fallacious logic is unlikely to lead to success.


Frida Sandin Avail Intelligence Frida Sandin
Company: Avail Intelligence
Position: Merchandising Professional
Frida Sandin is a frequent speaker on the intersection between digital strategies and business development, and is currently working as a Merchandising specialist at Avail Intelligence. Her main focus is multi-channel commerce and consumer behavior Read Frida's full bio

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