Towards Improved Constructive Thinking and Greater Holistic Objectivity and Clarity in a Complex World. This Blog is a Resource of Articles on the Thinking Process from Education, Information Science, Philosophy, Science, Linguistics, Psychology, Sociology, Media Studies, Statistics, and Other Sources. The Development of the Universal Debating Project acts as the Basic Backdrop to the Whole Subject.
0:11 It's Monday morning.In Washington,the president of the United Statesis sitting in the Oval Office,assessing whether or notto strike Al Qaedain Yemen.At Number 10 Downing Street,David Cameron is trying to work outwhether to cut more public sector jobsin order to stave off a double-dip recession.In Madrid, Maria Gonzalezis standing at the door,listening to her baby crying and crying,trying to work out whether she should let it cryuntil it falls asleepor pick it up and hold it.And I am sitting by my father's bedside in hospital,trying to work outwhether I should let him drinkthe one-and-a-half-liter bottle of waterthat his doctors just came in and said,"You must make him drink today," --my father's been nil by mouth for a week --or whether, by giving him this bottle,I might actually kill him.
1:19 We face momentous decisionswith important consequencesthroughout our lives,and we have strategies for dealing with these decisions.We talk things over with our friends,we scour the Internet,we search through books.But still,even in this ageof Google and TripAdvisorand Amazon Recommends,it's still expertsthat we rely upon most --especially when the stakes are highand the decision really matters.Because in a world of data delugeand extreme complexity,we believe that expertsare more able to process information than we can --that they are able to come to better conclusionsthan we could come to on our own.And in an agethat is sometimes nowadays frighteningor confusing,we feel reassuredby the almost parental-like authorityof expertswho tell us so clearly what it iswe can and cannot do.
2:34 But I believethat this is a big problem,a problem with potentially dangerous consequencesfor us as a society,as a cultureand as individuals.It's not that expertshave not massively contributed to the world --of course they have.The problem lies with us:we've become addicted to experts.We've become addicted to their certainty,their assuredness,their definitiveness,and in the process,we have ceded our responsibility,substituting our intellectand our intelligencefor their supposed words of wisdom.We've surrendered our power,trading off our discomfortwith uncertaintyfor the illusion of certaintythat they provide.This is no exaggeration.In a recent experiment,a group of adultshad their brains scanned in an MRI machineas they were listening to experts speak.The results were quite extraordinary.As they listened to the experts' voices,the independent decision-making parts of their brainsswitched off.It literally flat-lined.And they listened to whatever the experts saidand took their advice, however right or wrong.
4:08 But experts do get things wrong.Did you know that studies showthat doctors misdiagnosefour times out of 10?Did you knowthat if you file your tax returns yourself,you're statistically more likelyto be filing them correctlythan if you get a tax adviserto do it for you?And then there's, of course, the examplethat we're all too aware of:financial expertsgetting it so wrongthat we're living through the worst recessionsince the 1930s.For the sake of our health,our wealthand our collective security,it's imperative that we keepthe independent decision-making parts of our brainsswitched on.And I'm saying this as an economistwho, over the past few years,has focused my researchon what it is we thinkand who it is we trust and why,but also --and I'm aware of the irony here --as an expert myself,as a professor,as somebody who advises prime ministers,heads of big companies,international organizations,but an expert who believesthat the role of experts needs to change,that we need to become more open-minded,more democraticand be more opento people rebelling againstour points of view.So in order to help you understandwhere I'm coming from,let me bring you into my world,the world of experts.
5:57 Now there are, of course, exceptions,wonderful, civilization-enhancing exceptions.But what my research has shown meis that experts tend on the wholeto form very rigid camps,that within these camps,a dominant perspective emergesthat often silences opposition,that experts move with the prevailing winds,often hero-worshippingtheir own gurus.Alan Greenspan's proclamationsthat the years of economic growthwould go on and on,not challenged by his peers,until after the crisis, of course.You see,we also learnthat experts are located,are governed,by the social and cultural normsof their times --whether it be the doctorsin Victorian England, say,who sent women to asylumsfor expressing sexual desire,or the psychiatrists in the United Stateswho, up until 1973,were still categorizing homosexualityas a mental illness.
7:23 And what all this meansis that paradigmstake far too long to shift,that complexity and nuance are ignoredand also that money talks --because we've all seen the evidenceof pharmaceutical companiesfunding studies of drugsthat conveniently leave outtheir worst side effects,or studies funded by food companiesof their new products,massively exaggerating the health benefitsof the products they're about to bring by market.The study showed that food companies exaggeratedtypically seven times morethan an independent study.
8:11 And we've also got to be awarethat experts, of course,also make mistakes.They make mistakes every single day --mistakes born out of carelessness.A recent study in the Archives of Surgeryreported surgeonsremoving healthy ovaries,operating on the wrong side of the brain,carrying out procedures on the wrong hand,elbow, eye, foot,and also mistakes born out of thinking errors.A common thinking errorof radiologists, for example --when they look at CT scans --is that they're overly influencedby whatever it isthat the referring physician has saidthat he suspectsthe patient's problem to be.So if a radiologistis looking at the scanof a patient with suspected pneumonia, say,what happens is that,if they see evidenceof pneumonia on the scan,they literally stop looking at it --thereby missing the tumorsitting three inches belowon the patient's lungs.
9:27 I've shared with you so farsome insights into the world of experts.These are, of course,not the only insights I could share,but I hope they give you a clear sense at leastof why we need to stop kowtowing to them,why we need to rebeland why we need to switchour independent decision-making capabilities on.But how can we do this?Well for the sake of time,I want to focus on just three strategies.First, we've got to be ready and willingto take experts onand dispense with this notion of themas modern-day apostles.This doesn't mean having to get a Ph.D.in every single subject,you'll be relieved to hear.But it does mean persistingin the face of their inevitable annoyancewhen, for example,we want them to explain things to usin language that we can actually understand.Why was it that, when I had an operation,my doctor said to me,"Beware, Ms. Hertz,of hyperpyrexia,"when he could have just as easily said,"Watch out for a high fever."You see, being ready to take experts onis about also being willingto dig behind their graphs,their equations, their forecasts,their prophecies,and being armed with the questions to do that --questions like:What are the assumptions that underpin this?What is the evidence upon which this is based?What has your investigation focused on?And what has it ignored?
11:20 It recently came outthat experts trialing drugsbefore they come to markettypically trial drugsfirst, primarily on male animalsand then, primarily on men.It seems that they've somehow overlooked the factthat over half the world's population are women.And women have drawn the short medical strawbecause it now turns out that many of these drugsdon't work nearly as well on womenas they do on men --and the drugs that do work well work so wellthat they're actively harmful for women to take.Being a rebel is about recognizingthat experts' assumptionsand their methodologiescan easily be flawed.
12:13 Second,we need to create the spacefor what I call "managed dissent."If we are to shift paradigms,if we are to make breakthroughs,if we are to destroy myths,we need to create an environmentin which expert ideas are battling it out,in which we're bringing innew, diverse, discordant, heretical viewsinto the discussion,fearlessly,in the knowledge that progress comes about,not only from the creation of ideas,but also from their destruction --and also from the knowledgethat, by surrounding ourselvesby divergent, discordant,heretical views.All the research now shows usthat this actually makes us smarter.Encouraging dissent is a rebellious notionbecause it goes against our very instincts,which are to surround ourselveswith opinions and advicethat we already believeor want to be true.And that's why I talk about the needto actively manage dissent.
13:31 Google CEO Eric Schmidtis a practical practitionerof this philosophy.In meetings, he looks out for the person in the room --arms crossed, looking a bit bemused --and draws them into the discussion,trying to see if they indeed arethe person with a different opinion,so that they have dissent within the room.Managing dissentis about recognizing the valueof disagreement, discordand difference.But we need to go even further.We need to fundamentally redefinewho it is that experts are.The conventional notionis that experts are peoplewith advanced degrees,fancy titles, diplomas,best-selling books --high-status individuals.But just imagineif we were to junkthis notion of expertiseas some sort of elite cadreand instead embrace the notionof democratized expertise --whereby expertise was not just the preserveof surgeons and CEO's,but also shop-girls -- yeah.
14:57 Best Buy,the consumer electronics company,gets all its employees --the cleaners, the shop assistants,the people in the back office,not just its forecasting team --to place bets, yes bets,on things like whether or nota product is going to sell well before Christmas,on whether customers' new ideasare going to be or should be taken on by the company,on whether a projectwill come in on time.By leveragingand by embracingthe expertise within the company,Best Buy was able to discover, for example,that the store that it was going to open in China --its big, grand store --was not going to open on time.Because when it asked its staff,all its staff, to place their betson whether they thought the store would open on time or not,a group from the finance departmentplaced all their chipson that not happening.It turned out that they were aware,as no one else within the company was,of a technological blipthat neither the forecasting experts,nor the experts on the ground in China,were even aware of.
16:21 The strategiesthat I have discussed this evening --embracing dissent,taking experts on,democratizing expertise,rebellious strategies --are strategies that I thinkwould serve us all well to embraceas we try to deal with the challengesof these very confusing, complex,difficult times.For if we keepour independent decision-making partof our brains switched on,if we challenge experts, if we're skeptical,if we devolve authority,if we are rebellious,but alsoif we become much more comfortablewith nuance,uncertainty and doubt,and if we allow our expertsto express themselvesusing those terms too,we will set ourselves upmuch betterfor the challenges of the 21st century.For now, more than ever,is not the timeto be blindly following,blindly accepting,blindly trusting.Now is the time to face the worldwith eyes wide open --yes, using expertsto help us figure things out, for sure --I don't want to completely do myself out of a job here --but being awareof their limitationsand, of course, also our own.