You know how they say that fatty foods shorten your lifespan? Believe it or not, this statement actually was never proven. According to a recent NY Times article, this is a case of a mistaken consensus.
A prominent diet researcher made an erroneous assumption and attempted to convince the medical community, and although there was some initial resistance, it was not enough and eventually most doctors caved in because of the cascading effect of the mistaken consensus.
This story reinforces the notion of herd behavior. However, if those doctors gave their feedback in private without knowledge of what their peers believed, then the notion regarding the wisdom of crowds - namely, how the diverse collection of independently-deciding individuals is more likely to produce a better outcome, might have been the case instead.
I notice that in meetings with more than 5-6 people, typically the flow of the conversation is driven by the fastest talkers. Sometimes a questionable point comes up, but the conversation flow moves so fast that by the time I digest it and realize it’s wrong, the conversation already is past that point and the group already accepted it as fact.
It’s easy to be agreeable with the consensus and sometimes hard to oppose it. Also, it can be even harder when there is a general consensus to be undecided, since you don’t have the level of conviction you might have if you knew for certain to oppose it. Sometimes saying “No” is actually easier than saying “I’m not sure.”
Going against the crowd can be tough, and sometimes a bit of selective resistance (in other words, picking your battles) is necessary. A difficult but necessary trait of a good leader is the ability to sway the crowd to the correct path when the momentum is heading somewhere else.
This makes me invoke a quote from a recent poem I posted earlier:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch…
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…
- Rudyard Kipling