Groups Get It Wrong

We at Mobus Creative Negotiating have made much use of the work of economics Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton psychologist.  Together with Olivier Sibony and Cass Sunstein, he has a new book, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment.  They define “noise” as “variability in judgments that should be identical,” and that they show that is a common feature of human decision-making, often at high cost. Confronted with the same symptoms, doctors make differing diagnoses; confronted with the same facts, judges reach different conclusions; and so on.

They provide much detail and many convincing cases of a phenomenon Mobus Creative Negotiating has long emphasized, namely, “how groups amplify noise.”  At first, that sounds counter-intuitive because we know that aggregating the judgments of multiple individuals reduces noise – the famous “wisdom of crowds.” Unfortunately, that only works if the individuals are making judgments independently of each other.  Put them in a crowd, and an entirely different dynamic takes over.  As Noise puts it, “if people are not making their own judgments and are relying instead on what other people think, crowds might not be so wise after all.”  Popularity is self-reinforcing. The social pressure to be a team player can lead people to go along in order to get along.  Groups can be polarizing; as Noise puts it, “after people talk with one another, they typically end up at a more extreme point in line with their original inclination” rather than accepting compromises.

Mobus Creative Negotiating offers a variety of techniques for recognizing when the negotiators on your side or on the other team are falling prey to crowd noise.  And we offer advice about how to counteract this problem – basically, how to break up the crowd, that is, to empower individuals rather than the group as a collectivity.