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The Collective Wisdom is Greater Than You

Apr 29, 2021 by Dave Scholten 1 Comment

Harnessing the collective wisdom of employees

A few years back, we hosted our Annual Great Game of Business Conference with the theme, “The Wisdom of the Crowd.”

The event has always been a great place to learn from other open-book practitioners, and specifically remember this Gathering's opening keynote speaker James Surowiecki speaking about his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, which discusses how the collective wisdom of a group can outweigh the wisest person within the crowd. I was conflicted.

How can the average of a group of contributors yield a greater result than that of the highest member in the group? For me, this was a hard-to-understand concept that seemed to severely oppose my traditional, mathematical thinking.

When in Doubt, Consult

The first thing I found myself doing was consulting with one of my mentors, a behavioral psychologist. I explained to him the proposed concepts of the book, and he gave me these insights: In order for the team (crowd) to deliver collective intelligence higher than the smartest person, the team needs to have a common purpose!

Here is his example:

Consider a group of six strangers on an elevator. If you asked them a question and solicited independent or collective responses, the results may not be so intuitive. If you then turned off the power to the elevator between two floors and asked the team how to solve this predicament, you would see a group working together collectively to find the most viable solution to a safe exit from the elevator. They now have a common goal.

As a Leader, You Need to Provide This:

To harness the power of better, more creative, “out of the box” ideas as a result of the collective wisdom of the crowd, leaders need to provide the team with:

  • A common goal with clear direction to the expectations and results. This could be a vision, cause, challenge, competition to win and/or a desire to improve.
  • A true commitment to genuine collaboration and players who embrace the concept of teamwork. Without contemplating all ideas, you are not truly collaborating. 
  • An atmosphere that encourages creative brainstorming, where there are no bad ideas. Get out of your comfort zone and encourage "out of the box" thinking.
  • A desire to solve, plan, and project a path to moving forward. Take the focus away from blame and hashing out the past and challenge the team to improve and/or enhance your future vision.

Grasping and executing these concepts will require a commitment to being humble, holding back the egos, and attempting to listen more (and better). It may take time to get there, but the results you experience will definitely provide you with higher quality options for your future. See what Rich Armstrong and Steve Baker said about realizing the potential of your people in their book, Get in the Game:

"Taking a look at the big picture, The Great Game of Business is a way of running your company that gets everyone at all levels of the business as informed, involved, and engaged as the owner is in making the company successful. It’s about fully engaging employees by teaching them how the business works and what is critical to success. This includes understanding how profitability is driven, how assets are used, how cash is generated, and most importantly, how their day-to-day actions and decisions can make or break the business. The Game is just plain common sense. When you harness the collective wisdom of your people, great things can and do happen, not just to the bottom line but inside the hearts and minds of your people.

"The result is long-term success for your company and long-term success for your people. You will improve your business results and the lives of the people who create those results."

Don't miss this year's conference. Tickets on sale now.

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Topics: Company Culture, Employee Engagement, The Annual Gathering of Games

Written by Dave Scholten
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About The Great Game of Business

Our approach to running a company was developed to help close one of the biggest gaps in business: the gap between managers and employees. We call our open-book approach The Great Game of Business. What lies at the heart of The Game is a very simple proposition: The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the outcome. Let us teach you how to develop a culture of ownership, where employees think, act and feel like owners.