Book Notes: Rebel Ideas

Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking by Matthew Syed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book starts off with some stories highlighting the importance of diverse knowledge and experience. The book highlights that no only do homogeneous groups underperform but they underperform in predictable ways – not only do homogeneous groups share the same blind spots but they reinforce them as such groups become more sure of their judgements.

One of the challenge with diverse groups is that discussions in them are cognitively demanding – including plenty of debates and disagreements as a result of different perspectives being aired. Such groups (in the experiment) typically came to the right result but they were not certain of it because the discussion highlighted the inherent complexity. Compared to a homogenous group which was more likely to be wrong because of mirroring behaviour and not challenging blind spots, as a result they were also more sure they were correct.

When we have complex (as opposed to simple) problems e,g, economic forecasts then there is no single model which takes everything into account as such using multiple models by different people produces a better result. The reason for this is that each forecaster has their own frame of reference and builds a model to reflect that including its blind spots, however different economists (as an example) have different worlds views so by combining them the results can be more inclusive. In this world having clones of the best economists in the world would not produce the benefit which diversity brings.

In uncertain times people are naturally attracted to people who are dominant leaders. The ironic part is that at exactly these times is when the diversity of opinions is of it’s most importance.

Immigrants are more likely to be entrepreneurs – because they see beyond the status quo and can envisage new products and ways of working which people who are incumbent can not.

Echo chambers – the interesting part is that their opinions tend to become stronger when exposed to opposing ideas. The reason is that when they feel under attack they find holes in the other persons arguments which confirms their position. As such they hear but dismiss outside voices which they don’t trust, they trust their opinion and those who agree with them.

When people are in small diverse communities there is less opportunity for echo chambers to form, the challenge is in large environments (e.g. the internet) it is very easy to find people who agree with your perspective and to make a reinforcing group.

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