What is ‘Wisdom of the Crowds’ and how can it improve hiring?

Dan Gates





min read


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What do an ox, recruitment and Boaty McBoatface have in common? Not much, but they’re all somehow in this post.

Picture yourself at a local charity fête. The likelihood is that there’s a stall at which you can pay to “guess how many sweets are in the jar” (feel free to substitute sweets and jar for anything that makes it marginally more exciting). The more competitive people among us have a strategy to win which, of course, never works. For example, mine is to guess how many sweets are on one layer and multiply up. This completely revolutionary tactic has never failed... to disappoint me.

The smartest method would be to use wisdom of the crowds to create an answer. All that’s left to do now is explain what the flying goose “wisdom of the crowds” actually is.

What is Wisdom of the Crowds?

Wisdom of the Crowds, or crowd wisdom, is the rule of thumb that states combining answers from a diverse crowd produces better results than asking one individual.

“Wisdom of the Crowds” may sound a bit whimsical or mythical, but our guess is that it’s kinder than “unpredictable unintelligence of the individual” - which is basically what it means. 

Alone, even subject experts are poor at predicting outcomes correctly but together, aggregated answers provide much more accurate predictions. This has been clear since crowd wisdom was first discovered.

Some crowd wisdom may have helped here...

The origin of Wisdom of the Crowds

Its origin actually lies in a story from a Victorian country fair, where a competition asked participants to guess the weight of an ox. 787 people entered the competition and none of them guessed correctly (i.e. stupid individuals), but Sir Francis Galton realised that the mean average of their guesses was near perfect. In 2005, James Surowiecki cemented the term in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds.

Since then, lots of research has been undertaken to pinpoint how crowd wisdom holds so well against even the smartest expertise. Some studies have even looked at how to counter social influence within crowds to still get accurate results. But after taking all of this in, we’ve compiled a shortlist of guidelines to make crowd wisdom work wonders for you. 

This ox is quite self-conscious about his weight and was quite upset when the mean guess was correct.

How to make Wisdom of the Crowds work

Wisdom of the Crowds is an easy way to get better answers to a problem, but there are some basic rules to follow if you want the best, most accurate results.

  1. Diverse. Think about the sources that are feeding opinions into your decision. Are they all likely to provide similar answers? Recruit people from different backgrounds - some with expert knowledge, some with a passing interest - and you’ll likely get the best outcome.
  2. Independent. A no peeking rule will ensure all input is independent and not influenced by other inputs. This means your results will be a truer representation of your crowd’s thoughts.
  3. Autonomous. Similar to the no peeking rule, participants should be able to use whatever resources they like to create their answer. This will mean you get a wider breadth of influences, giving higher validity your final result.
  4. Quantifiable. Wisdom of the Crowds only works when you can combine the inputs and achieve one result. Ensuring the inputs are numerical or otherwise quantifiable is the easiest way to make aggregation quick and simple.

How to make crowd wisdom work in recruitment

This one is pretty simple. Each stage of the recruitment process usually needs a few members of your current team to evaluate a candidate. At sift stage (the first stage of the application process normally full of useless CVs or, more sensibly, work sample questions) each reviewer can mark every application independently and the hiring manager can average these scores to create a shortlist. 

At the interview stage this gets a little trickier as it’s tempting to chat with your team about the candidate as soon as they’ve left the room. But wait. If you score each candidate on a set criteria for a number of structured questions asked to every candidate, you can achieve crowd wisdom. Just remember, no peeking.

A small disclosure, organisations using Applied find this much easier as this method of evaluating candidates is built into our platform. Applied also removes the chance of a bunch of biases from each stage of the recruitment funnel. Find out more about how Applied improves your hiring process here.

How Wisdom of the Crowds differs to “crowdsourcing”

These terms seem similar because they are. Both definitions involve taking more than one individual opinion into account, but there’s one key difference.

First, what is crowdsourcing? Crowdsourcing is obtaining information or a solution to a problem by engaging the perspectives of a large number of people. The naming of Boaty McBoatface - aka the RRS Sir David Attenborough ship - is a good (or bad) example of this.

The key difference is that Wisdom of the Crowds seeks to increase the quality of the decision by aggregating input from a number of individuals. By comparison, Crowdsourcing is all about increasing the speed or efficiency of the decision, by seeking alternative inputs before choosing one of them. 

Final thoughts

Crowd wisdom is fairly simple and fast to implement. Just remember to stick to the rules above for the best results. In case it’s not obvious, this can be used to make a number of decisions, not just who your next employee should be. Wisdom of the crowds can be used for forecasting your team’s performance, evaluating which customer will be most valuable in the future or if you’re stuck for ideas... how many sweets are in that jar?

To see how crowd wisdom is embedded into Applied’s software, request a demo here. Not ready for a demo yet? Check out our resources page for guides and tips on how to improve your hiring anyway.