Swarming to a Conclusion

The concept of swarm intelligence in humans has grown, and is one of the latest business focused self-improvement topics. It follows naturally from the concept of crowd sourcing and the Wisdom of Crowds (1). Both the democratic system and the jury system can be considered as having a basis in the swarm intelligence concept. Now, we all take pride in our individuality, and we will sort the problems of the world out over a coffee, a glass of wine or a pint of beer, depending on our habits. Few of us actually want the opportunity to put our ideas into practice though, and rule the country let alone the world.

A key requirement of the human swarm to be successful is diversity (1). A single individual with a high level of expertise may get stuck with preconceived ideas and old, outdated practices. A swarm of people with varied experience will come up with a wide range of possible solutions. Some of them may be novel and powerful, sweeping away the old ideas.

A new study of the phenomenon is published in J. Animal Behavior by Krause et al (2) and they confirm the diversity concept. They conclude that adding diversity is better than adding expertise to a team (swarm). This is counter-intuitive and will be hotly debated over the lattes, but there are caveats.

They found that a group of individuals who were classified as underperformers can out-compete a group made up of high performing individuals.   This is not a surprising result to anyone who has had to work with a team of prima donnas, and who would rather opt for a job of herding cats.

The caveats mentioned above are in the type of problem that is requiring a solution. Fixing my car would not require a swarm, although sometimes I feel that I am paying for one. Electing a president would.

  1. The Wisdom Of Crowds, James Surowiecki Random House, New York, 2004.
  2. Krause et al., 10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.12.018 |

One Response so far.

  1. jazgal says:

    Oh yeah, I'm voting for the swarm action! Let's crowd out those divas and use our remarkable diversity to bring in new ideas - we need some!

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