8 June 2014

The Wisdom of Crowds

James Surowiecki wrote a book entitled "The Wisdom of Crowds".

He postulates that a diverse group of independent individuals generally make better decisions than even the smartest individual in the group. Even the less valuable members bring new information to the decision making process, and help create a better decision.

His examples include stock markets, web page ranking, car manufacturing industry, sports betting markets and ant colonies.

This concept has a really strong application in one particular aspect of ultimate.

This aspect often has suboptimal decision making by a group that is too small and not diverse enough.

The aspect is: selecting a team.

At several Australian University Games, I have been a selector of the Green and Gold team, an honorary All-Star team that would theoretically represent Australia in an international university competition. The selections are based solely on performance at this one tournament.

This is a challenging team to select. Most selectors have other roles at the same time: tournament director or coach of a particular team. And they have limited time to watch games.

The most useful piece of input comes from the wisdom of crowds.

Here is one way to do it: near the end of the tournament, ask one or two senior players on each team to write a list of the players they would select for the Green and Gold team. Ask them to consult teammates.

Of the eight teams in Division 1, you now have eight lists. And the cumulative information is very valuable.

Firstly, biases are apparent. Each list nominated by a particular team tends to have several players from that team. Obviously senior players see their teammates play more, and overestimate their performance a little. But these biases are easily spotted, once you look at all the lists: Fred may get a vote from his captain, but potentially none from other teams.

Secondly, you gain information on games the selectors never saw. If no selector saw Team B play Team C, yet Team B says there is a worthy player from Team C, you now have new input.

In summary, this voting system is valuable for gathering the wisdom of the tournament. Input is gathered from more games than any selection committee can watch. It is more time efficient. And it highlights biases that captains or selectors (who may be team coaches) have.

If you have to select a team, consider asking a diverse group of informed players for their teams. The wisdom gained may be very eye-opening.

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