27 March 2005

I won!

This afternoon, one of my housemates asked me to tag along with her to a family gathering. Crowds of strangers are really not my thing, but since I couldn't think of anything else to do, why not? Besides, at least I'd have some faces to go with the names she uses.

Anybody who's endured a gathering of extended family would recognize the scene: small small children running amok, men-folk watching sports on tv, teens cliquing together in a desperate attempt at coolness, and way too much food. This included "pretzel salad," which was some concoction with stick pretzels, raspberry jell-o, and cool whip. Please don't make me relive it. I politely ate a few bites and believe me, that should be enough for anyone.

Anyway, there was a 1-gallon green glass jug on the dining table, full of all manner of candy. The task was to make your best guess as to how many jelly beans were in it. I thought about it for quite awhile and settled on "125." I was the last person to make a guess (we had to write them down). The answer: 131. I won the whole jar.

I'm not too shabby with estimation, but I was really more interested in trying to divine the answer by another method: "herd intelligence." I was recently reading about this (and desperately wish that I could remember where). What studies are starting to show is that people are much smarter as a "group" vs. an individual. In other words, if I'd been allowed to average all of the "guesses" from today, the number would probably have been very very close to 131, even if none of our individual marks were. And if I hadn't been surrounded by people I didn't know, I really might have asked to have a closer look at everyone's numbers and do just that.

In my preliminary pokings-around on the web tonight, I saw that "herd" or "group intelligence" is gaining favour in business. If you have a big organization to run, why not pull those collective smarts together? I wonder how this would apply to public schools...or if some of this is already in play. Kinda fun to think about.

Tomorrow is the last week before Spring Break. I'm leaving Saturday for a holiday with my Sweetie. Here's hoping the time between now and then flies so I can trade my participation as part of a group for some one-on-one. Happy Easter to you all...does anyone want some candy?


Rob said...

A very good book along those lines is _The Wisdom of the Crowds_ by James Surowiecki. I'm reading it now and enjoying it quite a big.

Here is a link:


The Science Goddess said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll be sure to check it out.