Some teams fail because they don't allow the wisdom of
crowds to be heard
"Why Social Media and Wisdom of Crowds Don't Mix"
December 29, 2008
A couple of months ago I was watching a short lecture by James Surowiecki, the man
who coined the term "Wisdom of Crowds". Two concepts caught my attention: "Under
the right conditions, groups can be remarkably intelligent" and "Groups are only smart
when the people in them are as independent as possible."
I heard a coin drop... what I realized is that "Social voting" and "Wisdom of Crowds" just
don't naturally mix!
In a way, it makes perfect sense. If we all vote as a group, we actually vote as a single
person and the wisdom is gone with the crowd.
|San Diego Education Report
|San Diego Education Report
"Teamwork" as it was
promoted in my district had
nothing to do with
openness to others'
ideas. It was about power
and conformity. It was the
Powerful teachers only
discussed issues with
people who agreed with
them. Anyone else was
ignored or actively
silenced. Principals would
usually go along with the
powerful teachers, and
follow their lead.
In 42% of Companies, The Best Workers Are The Least
More than a third of companies are so dysfunctional, the best people don’t really care
about what they’re doing and the worst people don’t know that they are doing a lousy
job. Those are the findings of a new study by Leadership IQ, a twelve-year-old
Washington, D.C. company that does employee engagement surveys and leadership
Though many companies in the human resources business collect data on employee
engagement and companies themselves tend to track workers’ performance, according
to Mark Murphy, Leadership IQ’s CEO, this is the first time an H.R. firm has combined
the two data sets. Murphy’s team did that for 207 companies and came up with a
surprising number: In 42% of the companies, the employees who do the worst
job are the ones who feel the most “engaged.” At the same time, the middle
and high performers in those firms feel disconnected from their jobs and not
very motivated to come to work every day.
Companies should be worried about these findings, says Murphy, because high
performers tend to thrive on feeling involved and challenged. They also act as
company ambassadors with clients, customers and potential hires. If they are bored or
they feel under-appreciated, they will stop talking up their employer, mentally unplug
from their work, start looking for opportunities elsewhere and eventually jump ship.
As for low performers, companies want them either to become more productive or to
disengage and find work elsewhere. Companies don’t want deluded low
performers, who think they are contributing when they are really
doing poorly, to stick around because they have fallen in love with
their cushy jobs.
What has led to such a high level of dysfunction in more than a third of companies?
Murphy says that many companies are failing to implement basic lessons of good
leadership. Bosses should be clear about performance standards and transparent
about what they want their employees to do. There should be what he calls
“meritocratic accountability,” where high performers are regularly recognized and
rewarded with praise, promotions and raises. And managers should not avoid difficult
conversations with low performers, who should be told how and why their work is not up
Most companies know they should be doing these things, but Murphy says that many
businesses struggle to set clear performance standards. Outside of sales, where
achievement is measured in numbers, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what bosses
expect from top performers. Examples: hospital nurses and operations managers.
Often what makes people good at those jobs can’t be defined by simple metrics.
Nevertheless companies must try and they should be diligent about communicating with
employees about their performance while checking in about how engaged employees
feel. Murphy thinks that bosses should have monthly one-on-one conversations with
middle and high performers where bosses ask about whether employees felt
unmotivated or burned out, and also about when they felt excited about their jobs.
Murphy is less concerned about the low performers who feel engaged at
work. That is not such a terrible thing if bosses make it clear in performance
reviews that those employees need to improve. The bigger problem is with middle
and high performers who are so unplugged their work may slip or they may decide to
leave. The good news is that more than half of companies are doing things right. But
there are plenty of companies that should consider the Leadership IQ study and rethink
the way they manager their employees.
Teamwork among teachers and others
Members-only teamwork is damaging schools
We need professionalism among teachers, not the unhealthy small-group dynamics of
social cliques. A professional is willing to work with everyone on the team, not just
those in his or her social clique.
The Secret To
Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen
Amazon isn’t an easy place to
work. Its managers set steep
goals, scrimp on budgets and
expect long hours. But there
aren’t many better places to be
employed if you like the messy
work of coming up with new
ideas, because its billionaire
founder, Jeff Bezos, has made
that a priority for everyone and
in so doing has avoided the
usual curse of having a dynamic
and creative founder at the helm.
See our complete coverage of
the World’s Most Innovative
“I encourage our employees to
go down blind alleys and
experiment,” says Bezos. “We’ve
tried to create tools to reduce
the cost of doing experiments so
that we can do more of them. If
you can increase the number of
experiments you try from a
hundred to a thousand, you
dramatically increase the
number of innovations you
In our work over the last ten
years with business leaders, we’
ve identified an interesting
pattern (to learn more about our
work, visit learn.innovatorsdna.
com). On average, creative
leaders can increase a company’
s innovation capacity, but
having someone at the top who
is too much of a genius can be
dangerous for the organization
because that may squelch
others’ skills and ideas.
According to more than 1,000
assessments we gave, we’ve
noticed that 10% to 15% of the
most innovative leaders in the
world (based on others’
evaluations of their skills) don’t
bother to encourage the people
around them to innovate as well.
These leaders often believe
their ideas are so much better
than their colleagues’ that they
see little value in building talent
around them. Many also lack the
patience required to give others
the chance to develop and
deliver their ideas, so they do
the work alone. This can be
okay in the short run but
disastrous over time. Employees
stop coming up with ideas; their
creative muscles atrophy. This
can pose a serious threat to a
company’s performance if and
when a highly innovative leader
leaves, especially if that person
Investors started fretting about
Apple ‘s ability to come up with
big new ideas even before
Steve Jobs died in October
2011. In the last two years Apple’
s innovation premium (market
capitalization less the net
present value of future revenue
from existing products and
services) fell from 50% to 22%.
The company dropped from No.
5 on our list in 2011 to No. 79
this year. Apple might continue
to change the game without
Jobs, but investors have voted
with their feet.
The same scenario happened at
Starbucks . Its CEO, Howard
Schultz, left that job in 2000.
The company’s innovation
premium remained a healthy
45% through the next year, but
several years later that was
down to 11%. Schultz’s return in
2008 restored the coffee chain’s
creative luster, and today its
premium stands strong at 41%,
making it one of the top 20 on
the list. Schultz’s presence
makes a difference to investors’
expectations of Starbucks’ ability
to innovate and grow.
The more enlightened leaders
know the importance of building
creative capabilities in others.
As Salesforce founder Marc
Benioff emphatically put it during
a recent conversation with us: “I
can’t do it all. I don’t have all the
ideas. That isn’t my job. My job
is to build a culture of
innovation. That’s something
that we try to enforce. We
encourage it. We value it. We
notice it. We compensate for it.
We require it.” Salesforce, by
the way, has been No. 1 on the
Innovative Companies list three
Lately Benioff has been
acquiring innovators as well
training them from within. He has
spent close to $4 billion since
2011 buying smaller software
firms. “I’m willing to acquire a
company that might not have a
lot of revenue but has a lot of
innovation.” He added, “We’ll
take innovation any way you can
give it to us. … I don’t care if it’s
my idea, an employee’s idea, a
competitor’s idea, a partner’s
idea or some other associate’s
Benioff spends most of his time
these days with customers, and
he’s encouraging his team to do
the same, getting new ideas
from the likes of GE, Bank of
America, Toyota and Philips. He
admits, though, that
strengthening this ability in
others while he’s still present is
challenging and that whatever
“innovation capital” he has built
up over time cannot be handed
off to someone else. Whoever
ultimately takes his place will
need to earn his or her own
Jeff Bezos told us he thinks
Amazon will be a long-term
innovator because he’s made it
part of everyone’s job. A lot of
big companies appoint a chief
innovation officer; Amazon has
purposefully chosen not to.
Bezos doesn’t want his leaders
delegating that to anyone in
particular. While Bezos has
done many things to build an
innovative culture, he
emphasized three things that he
thinks make the biggest
First, he surrounds himself with
people who have a creative
track record. He requests all job
candidates to tell him something
they’ve invented: “Their
invention can be on a small
scale?say, a new product
feature or a process that
improves the customer
experience?but I want to know
that they will try new things.” He
also looks for a combination of
stubbornness and flexibility.
“Even though these two
attributes seem to be at odds
with each other, I don’t think
they are,” Bezos told us. “I want
people who are stubborn about
their vision of creating
something new and valuable. I
want them to be relentless on
their vision but very, very flexible
on the details of how to get
Second, Bezos has radically
decentralized the work of
coming up with new products or
services so that the majority of
employees feel like it is
expected of them. Most
employees are given an
innovation challenge on one of
Amazon’s now famous “two-pizza
teams” (a team small enough
that it can be fed with two
pizzas). “Each has its own
software developers, its own
business people, its own design
people and so on,” he
explained. “I think that kind of
decentralization is important for
innovation because your hands
closer to the knobs of what you’
re trying to build.”
Third, Bezos teaches these
teams how to experiment their
way to innovations.
“Experiments are key to
innovation because they rarely
turn out as you expect and you
learn so much,” he told us...
The author shows how the laws
of probability and amazing
experiments prove that a crowd
is almost always smarter than
the smartest person in it, but only
if each person thinks for himself.
POLITICS AND INFLUENCE MUST
BE ELIMINATED. Group thinking
is not the goal. The point is to
compile the information
possessed by each and every
DO TRY THIS AT HOME!
Ask a factual question, and have participants answer with a secret ballot,
without consulting each other. The more people you have, the more accurate
the group answer will be.
|News, information and ideas about our
by Maura Larkins
How Crowdsourcing Helped Bring Red Cross Problems to
November 6th 2014
Over the past decade, journalistic innovators and reformers have eagerly awaited a
future in which the wisdom of the crowd would identify potential subjects for
investigative reporting. That hope was bolstered by some undeniable achievements.
Thousands of volunteer software developers created programs like Linux and Firefox,
used by millions of people. Volunteer authors created a dynamic, online encyclopedia
– Wikipedia – that dwarves any previous compendium of human knowledge. The
"crowd" curates Kickstarter, a new means of steering small-dollar philanthropy to
artistic and commercial projects. A plethora of websites bring us movie, product and
restaurant reviews written by an army of amateur critics.
But the "hive" has been far less effective at identifying subjects for investigative
reporting and the reasons why say a lot about the core challenges of deep-dive
The most important decision an investigative reporter makes, and the one that has the
most effect on the outcome, is where to look. Sometimes the answer is as obvious as
the headlines on Google News. An unarmed African-American teenager is shot in
Ferguson, Mo. An oil platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico. The economy melts
down, throwing tens of millions of people out of work. Those stories cry out for more
The stories we aim to cover at ProPublica – betrayals of public trust or abuses of
power – have more typically arisen from obscure corners of government or business,
unearthed by reporters with finely honed instincts for detecting potential wrongdoing.
Certainly we remain open to the idea that readers can send us in productive
directions. From the very beginning, ProPublica has had an email address,
firstname.lastname@example.org, to which anyone can send ideas. Each one is reviewed
by one or more of our editors. A handful of these have turned into ProPublica stories.
The crowd has proved immensely helpful in answering specific, direct questions. Our
"Free the Files" project of 2012 harnessed the enthusiasm of volunteers to enter vast
amounts of data about televised political ads. And our 2009 efforts to track the Obama
administration's stimulus spending were greatly enhanced by the work of readers who
uploaded contracts from their localities. Repeatedly, ProPublica's reporting on national
stories like the delays in processing mortgage modifications or the epidemic of patient
harm have been deepened by contributions from readers on the frontlines.
Our recent reporting on the Red Cross suggests the power of addressing a specific
question to the crowd.
In April of this year, ProPublica published a brief story with this headline: "Long After
Sandy, Red Cross Post-Storm Spending Still a Black Box: Donors gave $312 million
after the storm, but it's not clear how exactly the money was spent."
The story was unusual for us: It focused on what we could not figure out, which was
how the charity had spent the more than $300 million it had raised for the victims of
Sandy. We added this simple sentence at the very end. "If you have experience with or
information about the American Red Cross, including its operations after Sandy, email
No super secret digital dropbox (though we have one of those, too.) No encryption.
Just an email address that made it easy for people to get in touch with Justin Elliott,
the reporter on the story along with Jesse Eisinger.
Over the next several months, tips began to flow in from present and former
employees of the Red Cross, as well as others with firsthand information. This month,
Elliott and Eisinger teamed up with NPR to produce a detailed story that included,
among many details, a devastating internal report in which the Red Cross
acknowledged botching the post-Sandy relief effort and diverting assets "for public
Of course, this sort of reporting was invented long before the Internet. William Safire,
the late New York Times columnist, used to throw sly references into his stories to
entice cooperation from the handful of government officials who had his phone
number. He called it "putting a note on the bulletin board.''
Today, that board is much larger and more easily shared with vast numbers of people.
All you've got to do is ask the right question in the right way.
So, in closing, it's worth saying it one more time:
If you have information about the Red Cross you would like to share, you can help us
report this story.