The Wisdom of Crowds Ignored, and Buying Local for the Gift Economy

rain road Freeman Patterson
I drove to work today in the rain, listening to Christmas choral music. No snow around or in the forecast. Just wearing a sweater, no coat. Some people find the warm weather and green grass spoils their Christmas spirit, but it doesnít bother me at all. Itís the people, and the places, that make the season, not the weather.

Two quick matters today. First, my colleague Gordon Vala-Webb points to a recent article in Henry Jenkinsí blog lamenting that tapping the Wisdom of Crowds (the collective knowledge of employees and customers on all key organizational and new product development decisions) has not really caught on in business. He blames this (as we have blamed so many ëbusiness takeupí failures over the past few decades) on lack of incentives for the crowd to participate.

But my experience has been that employees and customers love to offer their opinion on whatís needed and what should be done, as long as they think the interest in their opinion is genuine and will be acted upon. I donít believe additional incentives like ëmaking a game of ití are necessary. I question whether this type of incentive even works. The real reason Wisdom of Crowds hasnít caught on in business? (1) Management isnít really interested in the opinions of employees and customers ñ they think they have all the answers and that their judgement is better than the ëcrowdísí, and (2) If it were to be found (as I believe it would) that the crowd makes better decisions than management, what need is there for management? With most executives obscenely overpaid for what they contribute (and, to be fair, over-blamed when things go wrong), nothing could be more terrifying than a cheaper, better replacement for the entire upper hierarchy of organizations.

Second, in this weekís New Yorker, James Surowiecki makes a compelling argument that those impersonal gift cards/certificates that so many of us give now are a better choice than a ërealí gift, because in most cases the value of the real gift to the recipient is less than what the giver paid for it. He also argues that therefore buying less expensive gifts makes more sense, because there is an inadequate ëROIí on the more expensive one.

You canít argue with the logic, but while I am buying less expensive (but well-made) gifts and relying more on ëhintsí from those I love as to what they would like to receive, Christmas is about more than sensible investing. What makes even more sense than cheap gifts and gift cards are hand-made gifts, which contribute to the advancement of the Gift Economy (the one Christmas gift exchange was originally about), and gifts that are made locally. Many businesses depend on the flurry of Christmas buying to make or break their whole year. What better opportunity, then, to help locally-owned businesses that make products and employ people locally carry on for another year (good for the local economy and the environment), and help sink businesses that import (especially from horrific regimes like Chinaís),outsource, and offshore?

Have a merry, green Christmas, everyone.

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3 Responses to The Wisdom of Crowds Ignored, and Buying Local for the Gift Economy

  1. Teena says:

    I’m with you re the weather … I can do without a white Christmas.BTW, I landed here via GTA Blogger.

  2. cindy says:

    I thought the priciples of giving gift is about hearts and souls. Apparently we still measure giving in terms of dollars and cents. What is cheap and what is expensive? That is the problem with this free marketing economy. How do we measure the thoughts and troubles and time the giver gives in finding the gift? That is priceless.Wisdom of Crowd — I agreed with what you wrote. I just had a rather funny experience 2 days ago. I voiced my opinions on certain software and how to go about using it, but then realized others ALREADY have their visions and missions of what they want from that software (they are employed and I am a volunteer). I felt foolish after the meeting. Just a few minutes ago I read a Dutch job-site commented how and why some people are not employed or promoted or get into trouble with management because of what they wrote in the blogs, or commenting on online blogs such as what I am doing. If not done properly, it would boombarang on the credibilities of a person (of course there are others who get employed and famous). Well, is not news to me. I think anyone who opens his/her mouth (foolishly thinking freedom and democracy), whether verbal or online, would get into troubles anyway. Wisdom of Crowd only works for those that know how to play the game. It is no different than when the concept of KM first came to being. Many of my students asked me: If I shared what I know, what benefit would that be for me? If I share the knowledge that something is REALLY not working, what would that mean to my job?

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Cindy: Good points. My other posts on the Gift Economy and WoC try to explain how these can be done effectively, equitably and thoughtfully, but I agree we have a long way to go.

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