166. An Ox, A Jelly Bean Jar and You
Let me tell you a story about an ox who gave her life for the greater good.
It happened in 1906 at a farmer’s fair. The farmer who owned this particular ox was holding a contest wherein people could guess the weight of the animal’s meat after it was butchered and dressed. The person with the closest guess would win a prize.
787 people submitted their guesses and then the ox gave her life for what was originally a simple money-making scheme but would later be seen as a socio-mathematical breakthrough.
Do you know how many people accurately guessed the weight?
None, that’s how many. But that’s not my point.
Sir Francis Galton happened to be in attendance. He’s a chap who I won’t refer to again so I shan’t bother you with his background. Anyway, Sir Galton analyzed all of the guesses, and here’s what he found: though no single person came close to guessing the actual weight (1,198 lbs), if you took the median of all the guesses, it was spot on accurate (plus or minus .1%)
Let’s have a moment of silence for the ox who sacrificed her life in order for us to discover Vox Populi: the wisdom of crowds.
The Mean Jelly Belly Experiment
The vox populi experiment has been proven many times since that brave ox was chopped to bits. In fact, you can do it yourself.
Put a whole heckuva lotta jellybeans in a jar and ask 35 or more people to guess the quantity. Though almost every individual’s guess will be wrong, if you take the median of all the guesses, it will most likely be accurate within .1%
This knowledge about the wisdom of crowds has come to play an important role in our society... and in business. In fact, Wikipedia and Quora are two popular websites that rely on the wisdom of the crowd for accurate information. Even more, vox populi is the entire premise for rating systems, like those on Amazon, Goodreads, and Yelp.
Artificial Intelligence is also driven by the concept of vox populi: the more disparate data it receives, the more accurate its intelligence. This is exactly why apps like Waze skyrocketed to success; a concept that will most likely usher in increasingly safe auto-driving vehicles.
The good news is that you don’t have to kill an ox or mindlessly count jellybeans in order to leverage the benefit of vox populi.
It’s right there for the taking to help improve your business.
The Wisdom of Feedback
The simplest learning from the wisdom of crowds is that a group’s opinion provides more informed feedback than a single person can provide on their own.
That is a hugely important statement, so let’s review it again.
The opinions of multiple people provide more informed feedback than a single person’s opinion.
If you calm the voices in your head for a hot second, you may realize ways you are - and are not - effectively leveraging this concept.
For instance, when you come up with an idea for a new feature, is it just one person putting it all together with no other input from others or do you have teams providing multiple points of view?
When you create a customer-facing product, are you getting feedback from your customers before you finalize the product? Are you getting customers to test it out?
You are much more likely to be successful by asking 200 customers their opinions than you are by deciding on your own.
You know who is a great example of relying on the wisdom of crowds for new product development? Hubspot, that’s who. In fact, they won’t even consider a feature unless at least 100 customers vote for it. Check it out.
The Bigger Elephant in the Conference Room
Ok, ok...I know. I’ve been avoiding the key discussion. You’ve forced it out of me. I hope you’re happy with yourself. Here goes.
I’m guessing we can all now agree that the opinion of many is more informative than that of one, right?
Good. So please explain to me why the heck your employees’ performance reviews are only filled out by one person?!
Do you know what the opposite of vox populi is? Ignorance, that’s what.
Don’t be ignorant.
Why isn’t every company utilizing the wisdom of crowds to determine each employee’s effectiveness? For goodness sakes, even criminals get the benefit of a jury (another implementation of the wisdom of crowds).
If you are one of those companies in which a manager simply does a quarterly (or, god forbid, yearly) review of their direct reports, perhaps it’s time to review your review process.
Here are some things to contemplate:
If the comments in a review are a surprise to your employee, you’ve got serious communication problems. Make sure you don’t have communication problems.
Never wait until review time to address an issue or praise a behavior. Be immediate in your feedback.
Heck, if your dog keeps peeing on your carpet, would you wait a year before you try to fix the problem, or would you try to fix the problem immediately?
Don’t answer that out loud, just do the right thing.
Promote a culture that provides consistent, immediate feedback. That culture starts with you, right now.
When you do reviews, make them 360s. In other words, get feedback from employees’ bosses, peers, subordinates, and, if appropriate, company clients.
There are a variety of tools that can help instill the culture you want - a culture inspired by the wisdom of crowds. Keep in mind that the tools alone won’t create the culture - that’s up to you to exemplify it. But here are some tools anyway.
Lattice - I love this company and its culture. They are to people management what Hubspot is to marketing. They offer a variety of wonderful tools.
Culture Amp - They specialize in 360-degree reviews, and they do it well.
Leapsome - Another kick-butt company that’s leading the charge in 360-degree reviews
Donut - a Slack integration that levels-up kudos giving, celebrations, and team interaction
Hey Taco - Who doesn’t love tacos?! That’s the premise of this Slack-integrated app that is designed to encourage recognition of each others’ accomplishments.
Can you even believe it was an ox carcass from 120 years ago that has us now talking about donuts, tacos, and employee reviews? The world moves in funny ways.
Oh and my guess is 317.
There are 317 jellybeans in the jar.
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“…in any given point, there’s always somebody on the Internet who knows something better than you do."
- Guy Kawasaki
Jack and. Ummm, “Take Take Me Out To The Ballpark” is gonna need a rewrite (crack it open)
McRug. The chicken wars have reached the floor. (step on your food)
Clean Beats. Dyson is synonymous with cleanliness. Now they’ve gone too far. (listen-up)
Another Useless Website. the earth is not made of rubber, so, (why)
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This Week’s Book Review
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Manga Edition): An Illustrated Leadership Fable
by Patrick Lencioni, Kensuke Okabayashi (Illustrator)
My rating: 6 of 10
For fans of: Business, leadership, picture books, arguments
This is a manga/comic edition to the best-selling book. Truthfully, I’m glad I read this than the actual book as I could get through it faster.
The entire idea of the book is right there in the title: there are five dysfunctions that cause dysfunctional teamwork.
This book uses a story of a… read more