Tap into the Wisdom of Your ‘Inner Crowd

Essay by Emir Efendić and Philippe Van de Calseyde: “Take your best guess for the questions below. Without looking up the answers, jot down your guess in your notes app or on a piece of paper. 

  1. What is the weight of the Liberty Bell? 
  2. Saudi Arabia consumes what percentage of the oil it produces? 
  3. What percent of the world’s population lives in China, India, and the European Union combined?

Next, we want you to take a second guess at these questions. But here’s the catch, this time try answering from the perspective a friend whom you often disagree with. (For us, it’s the colleague with whom we shared an office in grad school, ever the contrarian.) How would your friend answer these questions? Write down the second guesses. 

Now, the correct answers. The Liberty Bell weighs 2,080 pounds, and, when we conducted the study in 2021, Saudi Arabia consumed 32.5 percent of the oil it produced, and 43.2 percent of the world’s population lived in China, India, and the European Union combined.

For the final step, compare your first guess with the average of both your guesses.

If you’re like most of the participants in our experiment, averaging the two guesses for each question brings you closer to the answer. Why this is has to do with the fascinating way in which people make estimates and how principles of aggregation can be used to improve numerical estimates. 

A lot of research has shown that the aggregate of individual judgements can be quite accurate, in what has been termed the “wisdom of the crowds.” What makes a crowd so wise? Its wisdom relies on a relatively simple principle: when people’s guesses are sufficiently diverse and independent, averaging judgments increases accuracy by canceling out errors across individuals. 

Interestingly, research suggests that the same principles underlying wise crowds also apply when multiple estimates from a single person are averaged—a phenomenon known as the “wisdom of the inner crowd.” As it turns out, the average guess of the same person is often more accurate than each individual guess on its own.

Although effective, multiple guesses from a single person do suffer from a major drawback. They are typically quite similar to one another, as people tend to anchor on their first guess when generating a second guess….(More)”.