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#510: Use the Wisdom of Crowds in Your Consulting

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, February 25, 2011
Updated: Friday, February 25, 2011
My client has asked me to recommend staff for a project development team. There are some staff who everyone says are "perfect" for the team. Given that staff know their colleagues better than I do, how much should I consider these recommendations versus make my own selections?

We are charged with using our judgment in providing client services,. That does not, however, mean we can ignore input from people with information we lack. The issue here is to what extent we should believe an apparent "consensus" on who should be on the team.

It may be an oversimplification of the situation but consider that the collective input of a large number of staff may be more insightful than your careful, singular analysis and selection.

As described by James Surowiecki, in his highly acclaimed book, The Wisdom of Crowds, in many situations, we are better off trusting the collective opinions of the "masses" before the opinions of the experts. This is true even if the crowd does not know all the relevant facts; as long as they bring a diversity of opinions and perspectives, any errors they bring will tend to offset each other. Be aware that it is easy to fall into the trap (called "information cascade") where you assume people know more than they do and that your opinion is .You are still responsible for making the final team selection.

This does not imply that crowds are always right, just that they are best for addressing certain kinds of problems. Consultants, as experts, occupy a special position between crowds (who are best at unstructured problems) and expert systems (which are best addressing structured, rule based problems).

Tip: Read Surowiecki's book to get important insights into how to use surveys, large groups and "collective intelligence" to supplement your expertise. Like The Black Swan, The Long Tail, The Tipping Point, these social theories are powerful adjuncts to consulting skills in providing effective advice to client organizations.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client staff  consulting colleagues  innovation  management theory  teaming 

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