How disagreement makes people smart

by admin on January 7, 2007

in General

Kathy Sierra asserts:

The new emphasis on net-enabled collaboration is all goodness and light until somebody gets an eye I poked out. Is it merely a coincidence that Apple, run by (as James Gosling put it) “a dictator with good taste” leads the way in tech design, while risk-averse companies using design-by-committee (or consensus) are churning out bland, me-too, incremental tweaks to existing products? And if that’s true about companies, why do we think consensus will work on an even larger scale with “users” in Web 2.0?

I needed to put all that in so you could see the context for the next statement so please stick with me on this. In talking about the meaning behind Wisdom of Crowds, she says:

By “crowd,”, I think he meant “more people”, sure, but he also defined a big ol’ set of constraints for how much togetherness people can have before the results became dumber. And it turns out, not that much. By “crowd”, he was referring to a collection of individuals. Individuals whose independent knowledge (and “independent” is a key word in what makes the crowd “smart”) is aggregated in some way, not smushed into one amorphous Consensus Result.

Over the last nine months or so, I’ve had some incredibly interesting conversations. The best are characterised by one thing: disagreement. Not for the sake of it but because the topics touch on issues of importance which can be viewed through different lenses, depending on where you are in the value chain. Here’s a great example from Sandhill. We all got smart.

Last week, I was concerned that Stephan Tual would make an error of judgment in the pricing of Terapad. Even though he’s gone ‘free.’ Apparently I was not the only one. Stephan’s logic was compelling but would likely deliver a less than optimal result. In other words we disagreed with his proposals. He changed position when, as CEO, he could equally have ignored the crowd. He got smart.

When was the last time anyone heard any of the incumbent software vendors even thinking along those lines. Oh yes – I remember – they call them user groups, focus groups, special interest groups or some such. Not the same thing at all. These other groups often exist to act as lobbyists rather than those to whom developers turn for help. I hope that will change. SDN represents a very good start down that road.

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