When Diversity Trumps Ability

A little while ago I listed a few of my favorite readings and videos about collective intelligence. But since then I have been extremely bothered by the fact that I forgot to include in the list some references to Scott Page’s work. In my opinion Scott is one of the most important references for anyone interested in subjects such as collective intelligence, epistemic democracy, crowdsourcing, prediction models,and group performance. For instance, his book “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies” is one of the best readings I’ve recently come across in the field.

It should not surprise anyone that some of the smartest people currently working on collective intelligence do not hesitate to cite Scott’s work over and over again in their writings.

As Scott highlights the importance of cognitive diversity for collective problem-solving (where diversity trumps ability), he ends up indirectly providing convincing arguments as to why – under certain conditions – citizens may outperform elected officials and experts. Scott’s work thus becomes compulsory reading for those working with citizen participation.

So I tried to compile a small list of freely available resources for those with an interest in any of the issues mentioned above:

  •  Virginia University Lecture

  • UCSD Lecture

( more recent talk, which includes a great account on the role of diversity in the Netflix algorithm competition)

  • Articles

Page, SE (2007) Making the Difference: Applying a Logic of Diversity. Academy of Management Perspectives 21(4): 6–20.

Hong L, Page SE (2004) Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers. PNAS 101: 16385-16389

Hong, Lu and Scott E. Page. (2001) “Problem Solving by Heterogeneous Firms.” Journal of Economic Theory 97(1):123-163.


7 thoughts on “When Diversity Trumps Ability

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  2. Just stumbled upon your site and, I realize this is 2+ years after your post, but I wonder if you have any comment on Page’s work on diversity, and whether you have revised your estimation thereof, in light of the 2014 Thompson paper that demolished his oft-cited (including by you in this post) 2004 ‘diversity trumps ability’ paper? (Apparently it’s the first time anyone bothered to examine Page & Hong in detail.)

    The gist of the 2014 paper is that Hong & Page’s math is nothing more than a (faulty) tautology showing that randomness is good in algorithms, and that his application of the English word and complex concept ‘diversity’ onto his simplistic model is invalid. Considering that Page’s paper is the bedrock ‘scientific’ finding of the ‘diversity is good for you’ movement–casting a veneer of quantitative reality over its body of qualitative/interpretive literature–it seems to me that the 2014 paper essentially destroys whatever claims to mathematical rigor it enjoyed, even if the everyday SJW Joe hasn’t caught up to it yet (willfully or not).

    I don’t mean to pick a fight, I just genuinely want to understand the thinking of diversity sine qua non folks.

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