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Leaders, Wisdom of the Masses, and the US Economy

Common sense isn’t. Nor is conventional wisdom.

Yet political leaders and the media continue to perpetuate the fallacy that consensus must be more reasonable and more right simply because most people seem to think it so.

In spite of the recent trend of business books touting the “wisdom of the masses,” the fact is that by and large, groups just aren’t that smart. While, by definition, they are good at determining what is popular, they are usually terrible at determining the best way to define something, let alone decide the wisest course of action.

Crowds and groups can create consensus just fine. But consensus is usually reached via compromise, and compromise is rarely the path to a great or courageous decision.  Compromise is merely one way for a group of people to reach a decision. Here’s the deal about compromise: Once a group decides that compromise is the goal, they are actually more focused on assuaging the emotions of the moment than they are on finding the best solutions to the problems.

Wisdom of the Masses: Group think is not a problem that is unique to our time or our society.

Five hundred years before Christ, early Greek philosophers Parmenides and Zeno were both quite adamant in their opinions that common sense leads to absurd conclusions. Of course this doesn’t apply to any groups you belong to. (Yes, I am being sarcastic to prove a point.) My point being that it is much easier for us to see the ridiculousness, the silliness, or the absurdities of group think when we consider groups we don’t belong to such as Communists, Afghan Rebels or Aborigines.

Wisdom of the Masses Is Not

The customer isn’t always right.

What if all businesses were to ask their customers what they really wanted and how much they wanted to pay for it? The results of that survey can usually be boiled down to three words. “Everything for free.” Or, consider the words of innovator Henry Ford,

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
― Henry Ford

How many businesses could deliver ‘free’ or ‘more’ and still be able to stay in business? (Before you answer “Google”, remember that Google is more a specific business aberration than a universally applicable business model. Yet another inconvenient fact that defies conventional wisdom.)

The take-away for America’s leaders?

Not all of the problems we face should be defined, or responded to, in a manner that is consistent with opinion polls. Opinion polls are just that—opinions. They aren’t called fact polls for a reason. Big problems demand strong leadership, which requires the courage to take a stand, not make a compromise. In regard to the economic problems that currently face this Superpower nation, capitulation just might become capitalism’s Kryptonite.

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One thought on “Leaders, Wisdom of the Masses, and the US Economy

  1. Gloria Fontana - August 15, 2011 at 1:03 am


    Outstanding article.


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