Phone a Friend, 50/50, Be Skeptical of the Audience

Donald N. Thompson, author of Oracles, makes a shrewd cultural observation about the quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? which airs in 80 countries around the world. The quiz makes use of “lifelines,” opportunities for contestants to ask for assistance in answering trivia questions; guessing correctly determines whether they win an increasing amount of money and move to the next question, or lose their winnings and leave the game. The questions get harder as the money at stake increases, so contestants try to use their lifelines strategically as they approach the $1 million mark. One lifeline includes an audience poll, which typically generates an accurate answer about 90% of the time, except in two countries with different cultural biases: French audiences give misleading answers to easier, low-value questions when they think the contestants should be able to answer them on their own. However, the French audience members do try to answer more difficult questions correctly. Russian audiences almost always provide wrong answers because they don’t believe an individual should profit from the work of the group.

Generally, the wisdom of the crowd will generate a more accurate estimation than the wisdom of individual experts. If you wish to apply the wisdom of the crowd to your organization’s decision making, take a look at these titles. Even the French and the Russians will learn some new tips:

The Wisdom of Crowds

We Are Smarter Than Me

The Perfect Swarm

And, coming soon to getAbstract, Oracles by Donald N. Thompson

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