Sunday, May 20, 2007

Juries, boards and diversity


While recently traveling on crawling Russian trains and decrepit ex-Aeroflot planes I have been able to read some books. My holiday reading included the book by James Surowiecki on The Wisdom of Crowds. It is an interesting set of essays on the effectiveness of collective wisdom - collective wisdom even trumping individual experts. (He does explore when and how groups don't work as in stock market bubbles.)

I would recommend that you read the book if you haven't already. (Its been out a couple of years.)

I was particularly interested in the chapter on Committees, Juries, and Teams. Many of Surowiecki's comments have a bearing on governance and management.

Surowiecki argues that juries are either verdict-based (starting with the verdict and working back) or evidence-based. He also points to the influence on group decisions of the status and talkativeness of individual group members.

In making small groups work better Surowiecki stresses the importance of diversity of group members. This militates against "groupthink" and improves the chances of a "devil's advocate" emerging who can challenge and test the evidence and recommendations being put forward.

I see Surowieck's arguments supporting the case that boards and governing bodies should have a real social, gender, ethnic and skill mix. This isn't "political correctness" or just "tokenism" (although it can be, if done badly) - it is a vital contribution to making decision-making more effective.

1 comment:

Peter Gillespie said...

Found your post through a Google alert on James Surowiecki whose work I have just discovered through a general interest in workplace ethics and productivity models (cf Pekka Himanen, The Hacker Ethic).

You may be interested in sitting in on a talk James Surowiecki gave recently at the New Yorker, 2007 conference: www.newyorker.com
(goto: online/video/conference/2007/surowiecki)

Cheers.