June 2008

Problem solving

In 1968, a submarine went missing in a vast stretch of ocean, 20 miles across and thousands of feet deep. It was found—not by a panel of experts or sophisticated technology, but by compiling the “best guesses” of a very diverse group of people.

There’s a book that cites this example, and many others like it, to illustrate the following point: when it comes to problem-solving, groups usually prove far wiser than individuals. Even if experts are (or think they are) smarter than everyone else, they often prove wrong. But if you take a large number of people and average their responses, the result is almost never off the mark.

There are only two conditions: the group has to be diverse, and all its members have to express their own opinion, without being influenced by the others.

It’s a very intriguing notion, don’t you think?

I think there’s a vast amount of wisdom at all levels of our organization, and that we must tap into it to reach our goals. To make it easier to learn from each other, I’ve set up an online forum where you can send in your thoughts, either anonymously or by name. If you see a problem, point it out (though I ask you to try to offer a solution, as well). And don’t forget to mention things you think are working well, too—others might learn from them!

I look forward to hearing from you. Help us prove the value of collective wisdom by visiting the NYU Langone Medical Center Idea Forum!