Books: The power of many minds

Lior Zoref instructs readers how to harness the wisdom of crowds.

Group of people gather together, process of generating idea  (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Group of people gather together, process of generating idea
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
If two heads are better than one, does it necessarily follow that 50 heads, or 5,000 heads, are even better? Yes, says the Israeli author of the enlightening and entertaining book Mindsharing: The Art of Crowdsourcing Everything. Lior Zoref actually has a doctorate in the topic of crowd wisdom.
“Mindsharing,” as he calls it, is something millions of people do daily by posting queries on Facebook or other social media: What’s the best pizza place in town? How can I entertain the kids at home on this rainy day? Which local health clinic has the shortest lines and the nicest staff? Zoref argues that we can mine the collective wisdom of friends and acquaintances for much bigger questions, from diagnosing a mysterious disease to finding a new direction in life. Or even for writing a book, as he did in this case.
Now an internationally sought speaker on mindsharing – his first-ever crowdsourced TED Talk is soon to be posted – Zoref is a former Microsoft executive who turned to his network of online friends to determine what new career to pursue in midlife, and clearly he is pleased with the result.
He is meticulous about citing the sources of his mindshared ideas. The very title of his book – which was published in Hebrew last summer – he reveals, was coined by marketing professional Aya Shapir in response to one of his crowd queries.
Distinct from (and maybe even the opposite of) groupthink, mindsharing “enhances our individual cognition or cognitive processes by utilizing the cognition of the crowd. Whenever the crowd solves a problem together, or makes a decision together, this is collective cognition, and the end result is collective intelligence.”
Especially helpful are the “weak ties” in our social networks – the acquaintances or friends of friends more likely to impart novel information, introductions or viewpoints than are stronger ties with whom we have much in common and who may be reluctant to offer honest criticism. If your query is better left anonymous (“Should I break up with my girlfriend?”) social sites such as Quora don’t require posters to identify themselves.
Zoref advises that the most reliable wisdom arises from groups of about 250, preferably encompassing a large range of ages and locations.
In fact, he writes, we can measure the brainpower we gain based on the size of our network.
An analytics tool,, ranks people according to their online social influence and gives a corresponding score. Adding your “NQ” (network quotient) to your IQ, Zoref writes, can increase our intelligence.
“We are more intelligent together. With mindsharing, our NQ is more critical to our success than our IQ. It is the great equalizer of the future.”
When Zoref consulted his crowd prior to his TED Talk recorded in 2012 in California, an Israeli teen named Or Sagy suggested bringing a live ox onstage to demonstrate that the audience could, collectively, correctly guess the ox’s weight even though no individual guess was accurate.
The folks at TED were happy to cooperate, and the experiment was a big hit.
Why should anyone care enough to put in their two cents? Zoref points out that humans are wired for connection.
“We all want to feel that we have meaningful value to give to others, and that we have an ability to influence others and the world.”
That said, you will get more participation by following some guidelines: Phrase your query carefully to make it educate, entertain or inspire. If your question can be dealt with in a Google search (“What time does the next bus come?”), don’t waste your crowd’s time with it. Update your crowd regarding results, and thank its members for mindsharing with you.
The book shares tips on “how to manage digital relationships so that your mindsharing is both purposeful and effective.”
“It takes time and effort to engage the crowd and make them care, but when the crowd cares, the superpowers of mindsharing are yours to command,” Zoref writes. “If your questions are not specific and well defined, you won’t get the amazing benefits that are the hallmark of mindsharing – saved time, saved money and knowledge equal to that of an expert.”
When determining which suggestions hold the most weight, Zoref says consensus is the best indicator when it comes to open questions like “Which car should I buy for my growing family?” If you’re seeking a creative idea, zero in on the answer that jumps out at you, and/or which one receives the most likes.
“Then take this idea and ask for consensus from the crowd as to both its brilliance and creativity.”
The book outlines the strengths and weaknesses of well-known and many lesser- known social networks. US space agency NASA, for example, has a dedicated site on that seeks crowd wisdom for challenges such as how to keep foods fresh and do laundry in space.
Even intelligence agencies, Zoref writes, are using mindsharing to improve their ability to predict and thwart catastrophic events. Mindsharing helps people find better success at everything from the stock market to dating to parenting.
He shares the funny story of how he met his wife after going on a matchmaking radio show, vetting the hundreds of ensuing dates with the aid of an Excel spreadsheet.
“Today, more than a third of marriages begin online... But with mindsharing, you don’t have to go to a dating website or be a guest on a radio show under a fake name. With mindsharing you can turn to your crowd and ask for help.”
He readily admits that mindsharing has potential pitfalls. Crowds can sometimes prove “unreasonable, stupid, and even dangerous” à la Lord of the Flies, if crowd wisdom descends into herd stupidity, he writes. And you have to use your intuition to weed out wackos and fakers from an otherwise sincere group of respondents.
“Successful mindsharing depends on people thinking together, not thinking alike,” writes Zoref, who naturally invites readers to share their thoughts about his book. “My crowd and I are waiting to hear from you.”