It happens in every industry, business, and (if we're not careful) community—it becomes homogeneous over time. We gravitate toward people like us, and our conversations and worldviews start reflecting those of others. This reinforces a cultural phenomenon that goes by the name of bandwagon effect.
Which then becomes a self-fulfilling mechanism, and behaviors tip or go mainstream. The more we can see what everyone else is saying, the higher rate of uptake of beliefs, ideas, fads and trends. Social media's design is to highlight and thus reinforce the bandwagon effect. But, there is a distinction between what we say and what we do, and we rarely learn whether behavior follows.
We might become popular by reinforcing popular beliefs. Which in turn provides additional incentive to remain less informed about alternative options. Yet new opportunities come from our willingness to consider or receive new and different ideas, from keeping an open mind.
In The Essential Crazy Wisdom Wes Nisker says one path to get wise is by gaining many perspectives. He says we can do that:
by changing points of view, getting into another place or a distant space and looking at things from there, by finding an odd angle, climbing high for an overview, seeing what is behind it all or underneath it all, stepping outside and going inside.
With all due respect to Albert Einstein, crazy wisdom has known for a long time that a lot depends on where you're standing and how fast you're going.
Things are not what they seem to be on the surface, and by adopting multiple perspectives, getting into the habit of asking better questions, we can literally shape a different life experience. There are things we know to be true. What we hold dear, for example. Even as there are plenty of things we don't understand.
We can start by asking simple questions, at the risk of looking foolish at first. Says Nisker:
The great fool, like Einstein, wonders about the obvious and stands in awe of the ordinary, which makes him capable of revolutionary discoveries about space and time. The great fool lives outside the blinding circle of routine, remaining open to the surprise of each moment.
We are the foolish ones, complacent in our understanding. We take for granted the miraculous dance of creation, but the great fool continuously sees it all for the first time. The revelations of the great fool often show us where we are going, or—more often—where we are.
Einstein predicted Gravitational Waves 100 years ago, and their existence has now been confirmed. “If scientists are still doing his homework from a 100 years ago,” says Stephen Colbert. He must have been pretty smart.
Duncan Watts started his career as a physicist, then went on to engineering and math, then sociology, and eventually computer science. He says we use common sense to navigate concrete, everyday situations:
The problem is when we try to use common sense—otherwise useful to deal with all kinds of life situations—to reason about situations that are not concrete, everyday situations.
The economy, marketing programs, etc. these are all kinds of situations that involve many people—hundred, thousands—who are very different from each other and interact with each other in widely varying contexts, over extended periods of time.
When we go beyond the obvious in asking questions, we figure out why there are no special people in networking chains but logical circumstances—like geographical proximity, similar occupation, or willingness to pass information along, for example. Because “what appears to us to be causal explanations are in fact just stories—descriptions of what happened that tell us little, if anything, about the mechanisms at work.”
Like rational choice theory, common sense insists people have reasons for doing what they do. Maybe, but predicting what they will do and their reasons is anything but simple. We can only do that when we look back—it's then that we can rationalize or collect it into a neat story about what worked and why.
Changing our frame of reference by engaging multiple perspectives creates better opportunities.
[image by E.M. Escher]