Bringing the Text to Life
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,...