Monday, June 30, 2008

Sunday Keynote - James Surowiecki

I was a little skeptical in attending a keynote at an education conference from a man from the business community. James Surowiecki, whose latest book is called "The Wisdom of Crowds," turned out to be outstanding as the opening keynote for NECC 2008. His ideas though, were spot on, not just for the business world, but definitely for education. His theories and research on how, continually, groups routinely outscore the best and the brightest. He gave a couple good stories about how different entities had tried their tested methods of problem solving with their most capable employees only to be outdone by a group of individuals from all different backgrounds and a variety of IQs. His final story was about how a submarine sunk in the north Atlantic Ocean in the 1940's (I believe). The Navy used all of the "technology" they had to try to find the submarine, but because the Navy only knew where the sub was because they checked in, they didn't actually know where the sub had went. So after a few months, they turned the problem over to and up and coming sailor who put together a group made up of sailors, mathematicians and others. After proposing some scenarios and having the group come up with ideas on their own and then as a group, they imputed their information into a mathematical formula. Their point, a point determined by an average of all of the collected "guesses," was only off by 220 yards.
His other stories about how close groups generally are were amazing. He theorized that if you have a variety of IQs, some may not just be dumb, but learn and think differently, therefore allowing everyone more ways to think about new possibilities. Having a group of like-IQed group members doesn't always allow for different ways of thinking. In fact, Surowiecki says at some point the group just starts to be dumber because no one questions anything or needs to have it explained.
It was an outstanding beginning to what is turning out to be a wonderful conference.

Here are some other Surowiecki keynote-related blog posts:

For more NECC reading, visit the Hitchhikr page.

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