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If you're stumped on 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire,' always ask the audience

You've probably dreamed of winning a million dollars on one of TV's most iconic game shows, but if you were stumped on the last question in the hot seat, would you know what lifeline to to rely on? Maybe you think phoning an expert would be best. Perhaps you'd find more comfort tossing the coin with the 50/50 lifeline. 

If you're James Surowiecki, you know asking the audience is your best bet.

"The experts do pretty well -- they get the answer right about two-thirds of the time," Surowiecki, the author of "The Wisdom of Crowds," told CBS News, "but the audience gets the answer right 91 percent of the time."

That's right - your average TV viewers tend to have a better shot at guessing the right answer than an expert. They have a success rate that makes them far more useful than the 50/50 tip. But how is that all possible?

Let's talk about mass intelligence
It's a phenomena that's been explored for years. According to Surowiecki, one of the modern-day experiments regarding crowd intelligence was conducted by finance professor Jack Treynor using a jar of jelly beans.

Treynor asked his students to estimate how many jelly beans were in the container, and on an individual basis, most students made awful guesses. The average for the group, however, was off by just 2 percent, trumping almost every other student's estimate.

Before then, a British scientist named Francis Galton asked groups of people at a fair to guess the weight of an ox over 100 years ago, according to Surowiecki. Galton gathered responses from around 800 participants and averaged them together. He found that the average response was just 1 pound short of the actual weight of the ox - 1,197 pounds compared to 1,198.

Applying the 'Wisdom of Crowds' to the real world
The real magic of this phenomenon isn't in guessing jelly bean amounts or cattle weights, though. And it isn't in winning millions on a game show either. 

This sort of data can be harnessed and used on an every day basis thanks to the tools people use on the Web.

"The most valuable resource on the Internet is the collective intelligence of everyone who uses it," Surowiecki wrote in an article for Forbes.

So how are businesses and individuals using collective intelligence today? You may have guessed questions like the ones found on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" can be recreated pretty easily online. Businesses create paid surveys to take advantage of that collective intelligence today. 

Moreover, this means that even if your opinion is a particularly outlandish one, it may be just as valuable to a business as the more generic responses. Every survey recipient's answer is boiled down to an actionable number or response that influences a decision. Your opinion is part of that. 

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