Collisions of Crowds

“The madness of crowds comes from like-minded people who are all wrong.” This is a memorable quote from Scott E. Page, an American social scientist and Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex SystemsPolitical Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan, whose Model Thinking course I took through Coursera. From this, I have taken away that we must prod and poke at our models of thinking in light of available data or other resources, or they will work less well over time.

Complementary to this, I heard something interesting in part 3 of the Freakonomics podcast’s three-part series, “Bad Medicine”. At first blush, many would assume that an experienced doctor would be better than a fresh graduate. However, investigation by a guest on the episode, Anupam Jena of Harvard Medical School, found that patients counseled by older physicians had a higher mortality rate than those with a doctor who had recently finished their studies – unless their experienced physician saw a great number of patients, because they would supposedly then have an opportunity to be more selective due to stronger demand for their services. It is asserted, though that the larger culprit seems to be the fairly quick pace of change in doctors’ understanding of how and when to use different techniques in the treatment of illness, which makes a residency even 20 years ago (1997?) different than one today.

Maxims that are thought to be true for long stretches of time are sometimes turned upside-down in light of new research. It’s perhaps more common for gradual adjustments to be made than to discover some whopper of an idea, but we have to keep our eyes and ears open. I have heard before that there is more knowledge outside of an organization than within it. How can we position ourselves to benefit from a world of riches? It’s interesting to look at something like what Tony Hsieh has done as CEO of Zappos, including this follow-up piece. He has tried to create an environment where ideas can flow between spaces, as blood flows between organs.

Another stark example of missing out on knowledge you could have utilized is an example that I am struggling to find a source for, but here goes; (I heard this one on the radio about three years ago), a major automaker decides it would be a good idea to do research into customers’ showroom experience, and explore tactics that would enable dealerships to increase their volume of sales. After spending perhaps a few million dollars and several months, they delivered their findings to a broad number of sales teams, who reacted with disbelief. They were already doing everything that the automaker was suggesting they try! Had the automaker just reached out to the dealerships from the beginning, they might have saved that money.

We should seek not only the counsel and energy of those in our vicinity, but try to collide with other points of view and information, in order to make wiser decisions.

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