Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The wisdom of crowds

I've been thinking that I need to get my hands on James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds, because I've been hearing a lot about it, and it sounds like it's up my alley. Better add it to my Froogle wishlist.

The premise behind The Wisdom of Crowds is that large groups of people can be "smarter" than a few elite experts -- better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.

Over the past couple of months, I've run into a few interesting items that tend to fall into this category.

The first is the ageproject, a web site where you can post a photograph of yourself, and the random masses will take a stab at how old you look. Earlier this year, I posted a picture of myself that I think is a fair representation of my appearance. (It also happens to be the profile photo you see here on Inside Market Research.) After about 80 people have submitted their guess of my age in that photo (I was 36 at the time), they have come to the conclusion (as an average) that I looked thirty-six years old! I don't know why that amazes me, but it does.

Another interesting site where random users contribute their perceptions to create an "average" whole is the Mind World Map. Here, the user visits the site and sees what used to be a random assortment of green and blue pixels. But the Internet community is molding it, one pixel at a time, into what they think the world map looks like. Pretty neat.

The final item that I thought fell into this category actually happened at ICR, when the results of a survey that we conducted among American adults were presented in Japan to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of the survey questions asked household respondents to identify the year in which the atomic bombs were dropped during World War Two. The range of answers was a bit frightening to me (a student of History), but sure enough, the mean, median, and mode were correctly on 1945. Same goes for the question about which month of the year the bombs were dropped, correctly centering on August, even though every month of the year received at least some mentions.

I'm not completely convinced that, given a choice between 10 experts in various fields and a room full of 200 average Joes, I'd want the latter giving me important advice. But, the concept is interesting. Anyone with similar anecdotes about either the book or the concept of "the wisdom of crowds"?

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Companies for the next 100 years

I saw a blurb today in Market Research News about a French professor (Georges Lewi) who named seven global companies that he predicted will still be thriving in 100 years. One of his selections was Airbus. Considering some of the state-supported advantages that Airbus enjoys over Boeing, that could be a good pick.

The whole notion of envisioning the business world in the year 2105 was intriguing to me, so I thought I'd lay out seven global firms that I happen to think will be thriving a century from now.

1. Toyota
What this company is doing in terms of hybrid energy drives is certainly intriguing. But, in my opinion, Toyota has always been the auto manufacturer that best covered the waterfront with top-of-the-line models for sports coupe, sports muscle, family sedan, luxury sedan, pick-up, minivan, and SUV. They just consistently do it right, across the board.

2. Coca-Cola
This brand is American globalization exemplified. If the United States still exists in 2105, then so will Coke.

3. eBay
I thought about Amazon, as well, but if I had to have a pure-Internet player, I think eBay has the future of distributed merchandizing better in hand than does Amazon. There will always be a marketplace for new goods. There will always be a marketplace for second-hand goods. eBay has the latter locked up tighter than Amazon ever will have the former.

4. Microsoft
The Windows/Office construction is now the lexicon of business communication. When you add the fact that Microsoft is becoming a dominant player in media and games, you can't help but see that they're prepared for a long, long legacy after Bill Gates has passed on.

5. Samsung
This company is scary in its diversification across anything that uses electrons to be useful. They seem to have the right combination of innovative design and cost-effective practicality that will carry them for another century.

6. Citigroup
The monolith of money. Credit cards, retail banking, corporate and investment banking, and (through Smith Barney) they've even got wealth management.

7. Synagro
It's football season, so you have to have an "upset special" of the week, right? We all hear about how water will be the commodity of the next century. This company is carving out a dominant position in the area of wastewater conversion. That is, they turn sewage into fertilizer. I can't see how that's not going to be a growth market for years to come.

I hope you enjoyed my little look into a crystal ball. I'd welcome your comments, either debating my selections, or offering one of your own companies "built to last".

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