The Power of Many Small Ideas

By Lee Shapiro

One of the television shows that got a lot of airtime in the Shapiro household some years ago was “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. The basic premise was to create a dramatic, tense environment for a contestant who would be asked by the host increasingly difficult multiple choice questions (up to a dozen) with a time limit for answers. The player was given three “lifelines” to aid with the toughest of the bunch – 50/50 (where the computer would eliminate two of the four potential answers), Phone a Friend (to get input) and Ask the Audience, where the audience in the theater would be electronically polled and the results shared with the contestant.

There has been much study of the efficacy of the lifelines – and by some accounts, the audience was more effective than phoning a friend (who presumably was going to provide some level of expertise), with the crowd being right 91% of the time as compared to 65% of the friends. …

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