Is it really wise to follow the wisdom of the crowd?

by | Feb 26, 2016

A few years ago I was drawn to a book, “The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki which presented a counter-intuitive idea that collective wisdom eventually trumps individual knowledge. While I can see the point here, I tend to disagree because if the crowds aren’t collaborating too well then an individual’s insight, opportunity and motivation to progress will win through every-time. We believe in inclusivity at Hubscope and the importance of encouraging diversity of opinion. When designing IT solutions for business, having only one person drive through the vision can work sometimes but it carries a lot of risk, especially where the solution is fairly complex and subject to change.

While at IBM UK, I rekindled my artistic inclinations and moved away from coding to Architecture. As an Architect my job was to interpret a requirement or high level design and draw out something others could get behind so that together we could all build a working solution. A picture really is worth a thousand words. Before IBM I worked for small software houses where everyone did everything so design, development, test, installation, training all rolled together. In this flying by the seat of your pants situation, you just get on with it, as there’s no one to convince and a lack of formal accountability and reporting structures. However, the risk of failure goes through the roof so it’s not an approach for the faint hearted and not particularly scalable for larger projects.

IBM taught me discipline and methodology and paid me to draw pictures of the evolving solution. However, far too often as the end to end design authority, you become isolated as people back off, assuming you know everything, which is just not possible. Collaboration is the key, allowing many different disciplines and experience levels to contribute and jointly own the solution. If one person dominates the design process then others tend to back off, perhaps keeping quiet but knowing aspects are incorrect.

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Everyone on the project has a personal perspective on the design and should be included in the overall progress. The diagrams that represent the solution must be jointly owned to share accountability and avoid risk as people come and go from the team. By:

  • allowing everyone to contribute to the design
  • ensuring everything that is built is meeting a requirement
  • and confirming all requirements are being met

the risks of delivering an inadequate solution are reduced. I encourage everyone to draw the project from their perspective. Use whiteboards, powerpoint, visio or Hubscope to create diagrams the team can get behind because they will complement each other, adding value at different stages of the project. Get involved, keep it personal and ask yourself, “What is the simplest representation that everyone will understand and which will stand the test of time?”

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