The Wisdom of Crowds

The science of crowd-sourcing, the herd mentality, and groupthink.

Would You Have Done it Better? Four Ways to Tell

It's good everyone's got an opinion, but why are some people so certain?

This week North Adams Regional Hospital closed. Unless things change, health and safety in my area will suffer. Everyone thinks this was a bad outcome, including the people who decided to close the hospital. To a lot of people it was obviously a bad decision. We have no hospital. What more do you need to know? Fire the bastards!

It is a bad outcome, but was it a bad decision? They’re different. Good decisions can lead to bad outcomes. (Sometimes bad decisions lead to good outcomes, too, like betting the family car at the craps table—a bonehead move even if you happen to win.)

It bothers me when people assume they would have made a better decision just because they don’t like the outcome. It's good everyone's got an opinion, but why are some people so certain? 

Here are some good reasons to believe you would have made a better decision, or done a better job, than someone else:

  • You have more information.
  • You have more expertise with this particular kind of decision.
  • You are smarter.
  • Your motivations are more pure.

In the case of the hospital closing, a group of experts, who are smart people, have privileged access to a ton of complex information. It’s possible that their motives were impure. From what I’ve read, I doubt it. The real problem seems to be inadequate governmental support for small hospitals. But I won’t pretend to know and that’s the point—I don’t know. (I would have a better idea if they were a little more forthcoming, however.)

If you want to criticize someone else’s decision, go for it. But don’t start from the premise that if the outcome is bad, the decision was bad. Or that everyone is stupid except you.

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