Enjoy the Silence
In 1906 Galton visited a livestock fair and stumbled upon an intriguing contest. An ox was on display, and the villagers were invited to guess the animal’s weight after it was slaughtered and dressed. Nearly 800 gave it a go and, not surprisingly, not one hit the exact mark: 1,198 pounds. Astonishingly, however, the average of those 800 guesses came close — very close indeed. It was 1,197 pounds.
Averages over many individual decisions can indeed be more accurate than any individual decision. That’s not the case for all such averages, however: there are certain key factors that have to be considered.
The following influences are not exhaustive, but they are necessary for such averaging to be valid:
1) The decision-makers must have a means of perceiving the subject that is capable of veridical representation along the relevant factors – or at least approximates accuracy. For example, human vision possesses neither infinite resolution nor universally reliable perception, but it has been selected for moderate accuracy.
2) The decision-makers must be willing and interested to make the most accurate decision they can.
3) The decisions must be made independently, without knowledge of what others are deciding or have decided.
Those may not be the only requirements for valid decision averaging, but I’m confident that if even one of them is lacking, averaging is no longer a wise course of action if you want to make a quality decision.
Why do I point this out? The silence is deafening.