Why You Need to Question the Answers
Whereas the title of this post is borrowed unashamedly from a superb Mighty Mighty Bosstones album, the concept came from Greg Satelli (Digital Tonto) in his thought provoking 2010 post, The Stupidity Of Crowds. He was talking about how the greatest success is for those who buck trends as opposed to following them. How true is this
I’d like to present a different take in support of the above assertion.
First to defend trend following: We all do it from time-to-time and that’s fine! Who didn’t follow the fashion of their teen years, for example?
Nowhere is Greg Santelli’s blog title more appropriate than in the Financial Sector, where I have spent most of my career:
“Ooh, the market has gone up 20%. It must be for real! Let me buy some shares. “
“Oil just went up 50%? Yes! I’m in!”
“Gold at new highs? Yes, please!”
Wonderful for those with deep pockets who precede them; not so great for the latecomers when the bubble inevitably bursts.
Those who jump in late are presuming that the pie is big enough to feed everyone and that the answers that allowed early entrants to profit, remained the answer later. They didn’t realise that the question changed. The questions frequently change! And if they stay the same, the context for them changes.
The dictionary definition of ‘Trend’ – “a general direction in which something is developing or changing” – is not really sufficient for our modern times. Certainly, some things qualify. But we’re sometimes too quick to label as a trend, anything that is new and a number of our friends and/or peers are getting into.
The dictionary definition of Bandwagon – “a particular activity or cause that has suddenly become fashionable or popular” – is a more correct term for so many of the newer, shinier objects we are drawn to. Remember, for every Foursquare, there is at least one Gowalla and probably hundreds that had local or peer support and thousands that fizzled on the planning board. There is no shortage of great ideas, that’s for sure!
Some really brilliant people are starting businesses with ideas that seem infallible. That there are so many brilliant people who between them have had considerably more infallible ideas than can be sustained, should be a fair indicator that most will indeed fail. But failure isn’t only down to too many efforts being underway or arriving second without anything to stand it clearly apart from predecessors.
Many failures may be down to lack of adaptation to the changing landscape but more will simply be because not enough ideas have been fielded, questions asked or answers questioned. Even the person who has every necessary skillset – is there really such a person? – will not have enough hours in the day to go it alone on anything other than a very small, very focused scale.
I actually have to take a step back here, as I firmly believe that even amongst people who ask a lot of questions, outside of brainstorming sessions or requests for feedback, too few answers are questioned.
A few of the reasons answers may not be questioned:
- They follow commonly held wisdom
- Things are just done that way
- They may be the answers given to flawed questions where the rush to acceptance covered up the innate flaws.
- A highly trusted person is a believer and proponent
- We innately trust the crowd
And of course, so many, many more!
So how do we maximize our chances of beating the odds? Remember, this is our business we’re talking about, so is it really wise to follow the crowd?
To restate a few of the suggestions from my article, http://curatti.com/need-expand-big-data-questions-gene-pool/:
- There is no one path that will provide all of the answers
- There is no one person or group of people who can ask all of the right questions
- The importance of outside experiences being used to introduce new paths of investigation cannot be minimised.
- Even the most naïve questions can provoke further questions or thoughts in others, so all must be encouraged to ask
- Form question committees encompassing several competencies from both inside and outside of your current organisation or circles
In a future article, I will delve in more depth into the last of those points, as I feel that Question Circles should be and will become an indispensable part of every business, whether large, small or embryonic. The inclusiveness of their make-up and the openness of the people convening them, will be the key to their success.
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