Bringing the Text to Life

Crowd Control Exodus 17:1-7

Crowd Control

The Israelites were a quarreling, disrespectful, frustrated and potentially violent crowd. If only Moses had known the secret to turning a mindless mob into a wise and effective congregation.

The year was 1906. The event was the annual “West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition.” A British scientist became interested in a weight-judging competition.

The challenge: Guess the weight of a slaughtered ox.

As you might imagine, it was very difficult — if not impossible — for a single individual to guess the weight of the beast. That’s the point of the competition.

It occurred to the scientist that the crowd as a whole might do better. So he studied the estimates of 800 people at the exhibition — people who were smart, dumb, old, young, and representative of all types of professions. Their collective estimate was 1,198 pounds.

The actual weight of the ox: 1,197 pounds.

James Surowiecki tells this story in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds. It’s a book which explores why large groups are often smarter than isolated individuals, and how collective wisdom shapes economies and nations. The author suggests that there is an uncanny,...

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