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Wisdom of the Crowd vs Sheep

Thanks to social networking and the Internet, a lot has been made of using the ‘crowd’ to source opinions, knowledge and now even funding. The theory is that the crowd knows best and that following the crowd’s collective wisdom should lead to commercial success.

I’m a big fan of crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, etc. but something happened to me which gave me pause for thought.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to disembark from an aircraft first at a small airport. I was first through passport control and the baggage area was so little there were only two carousels delivering peoples’ luggage.  As the first person through, I checked the screen and went to sit near carousel number 2 which was the correct one for my flight.  This was the furthest away from the passport control.

The second person off the plane did not bother to check the screen and stood waiting at number 1 carousel, probably because it was nearest or it was the one used last time they flew on that route. They were promptly followed by the third person and so on.  By the time all the passengers had gone through passport control, all bar myself and two others were waiting next to the incorrect baggage carousel.

Clearly everyone on that flight was intelligent enough to read the screen, however nearly everyone assumed – wrongly – that the others had already done so and that they should follow the ‘crowd’ rather than the loaners sitting on the far side of the room!  In this extremely simple example, the crowd was entirely wrong.

So is there real wisdom in the crowd, or are we just sheep to follow?

This small event has reinforced my opinion that it is better to be a contrarian.  Do what everyone else does, get what everyone else gets.

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