Back in 1906 at the age of 84, Francis Galton came across an Ox weighing competition at the West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition. The fair goers were asked to guess the weight of the Ox after it was slaughtered and dressed with the nearest guess winning a prize. Galton, always wanting to demonstrate that the political process was flawed and that people in general are not terribly smart asked if he could take away the individual guesses to analyse them. On averaging the combined results he was amazed to find that the average of the crowd was 1197lbs just a mere 1lb away from the actual weight of 1198lbs and in so doing he had provided amongst the first evidence that the collective intelligence of the crowd is often significantly better than that of the smartest individuals among them.

This formed the first chapter of “Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki and it and the rest of the book for that matter got my mind racing and, on the 15th May I got my chance having organised the latest UK Architect Forum that would focus on “Software and Services”.

Neither having an Ox to hand nor the willingness to slaughter one I presented the audience with a jam jar filled with one penny coins. I provided each person with a pen and post-it note with a prize to incentivise them to make their best guess.

 Money JamJar

Of 107 guesses, 2 provided their name but no guess, 1 provided a guess with no name and 2 guesses were ignored as they we way off target at 4700 and 4500. We had 2 winners who hit the nail firmly on the head at 421 but most impressive of all was that the group average as a whole came out at 419, just 2p away from the actual amount.

For those statisticians amongst you here is the distribution curve and corresponding data:

 

Distribution of guesses

Range

Guesses

100

6

200

20

300

21

400

16

500

13

600

7

700

6

800

4

900

3

1000

4

1100

2

1200

0

1300

1

1400

1

1500

0

1600

1