Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blink: an embarrassment of collective intelligence

Blink is another best-selling book authored by Malcolm Gladwell after his influential The Tipping Point. The book Blink is about the unconsciousness of human being. In the book, Malcolm argues that a decision made by well-trained unconsciousness many times is better than an alternate decision made by through thoughts. Reason: well-trained unconsciousness (or the so-called "thin slicing") only catches the very core of the problem, while through thoughts often wander into unessential branches that lead to the burying of the core. This is thus "the power of thinking without thinking," as the subtitle of the book.

This observation of the importance about the "thin slicing" shows an embarrassing side of the collective intelligence: if there is a conflict between a decision made from a collective base and an alternate decision made by the instinct of few top experts, which one should we trust? The Web-2.0 experiences ask us to vote for the first decision, but Malcolm's book tells us that most of the time it is the second one that is more trustworthy. Which one would you pick in real then?

This is a vague question that may not have an absolute answer in general. But at least the question shows that collective intelligence is not a panacea. An opinion from a domain expert and another opinion from a layman certainly should be weighted differently when we apply both to make a decision. Some time, as what Blink tells, the instinct of very few experts is much more correct than a collective decision.

So is the YouBeTheVC competition a really serious event? Maybe it is just another American Idol show. Think of it, would Larry Page and Sergey Brin (or Mark Zuckerberg) attend this kind of idol show when they had the blueprint of Google (or Facebook) in mind? I doubt it. Distinctive idea is more often out of a blink in contrast to out of a collective vote.

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