The Wisdom of 12 Angry Men

The four key requirements for the wisdom of crowds are:
  1. Diversity
  2. Independence
  3. Specialisation
  4. Aggregation

How does this hold up in a jury where 12 people must reach a collection verdict? A classic film may provide the answer. If you have the film channel TCM (Turner Classic Movies) or similar you may have come across the 1957 film Twelve Angry Men.

This is a great film. It's about justice and doing what's right and the transcendence of ordinary people. Plus, it has great speeches just littered all through it. It's also a classic example of the wisdom of crowds.


One of the things I noticed this time through--maybe because I'd just finished reading The Wisdom of Crowds is how much depends on the different experience and knowledge of the men in the room--the old man(Joseph Sweeney) knows what it's like to be a forgotten old man, Jack Klugman knows how to use a switchblade, Henry Fonda used to live next to an 'El' train line. They were poor men and immigrants and business men and laborers. They each brought knowledge with them that others didn't bring. They each observed different things in the courtroom, they each had different prejudices (which meant that their prejudices would be questioned, not just taken for granted.

They were diverse. They were independent - they had never met before their jury duty and they didn't even know each other's names until Henry Fonda and Joseph Sweeney introduce themselves as they're leaving the courthouse. Henry Fonda broke them out of 'groupthink' and gave them the opportunity to bring their special knowledge to bear on the situation. And they were locked in a room until they came to an agreement - making aggregation a necessity.

You can watch this classic film online here.

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