Right now I'm having a battle with ants.
They have managed to climb the exterior of my 8-story building, and are presently streaming into my kitchen. Why? Because at some point, one adventurous ant found a rogue pasta noodle under the stove, and told all his friends.
All 10 million of them.
Meanwhile, I am working in another room, hard at work in a different way, studying technology platforms. Today I'm looking at a new reverse proxy solution for websites, for some clients of my tech company Sygnal,
I'm excited about it, busy digging through the API documentation and feature set, and then suddenly I saw my brain do an interesting thing.
I saw it think...
“It's new, I don't trust it yet.”
“Fair enough,” a different part of my brain replied.
In the tech world, I've seen cool, exciting products with awesome capabilities appear on the scene before... and then suddenly disappear without a trace. No announcement regarding what happened, why they failed...
Or even information on what's happening to their users.
And every time, I think,
"Shit. What if I’d built my site on their tech?"
Trust is Contagious
In the area of “technology infrastructure,” my brain distrusts new things. Until they are time tested and market-proven, they don’t get a lot of love from me.
Most importantly, I need to see other people using that product successfully- preferably people who I know personally and trust well.
Without that, it’s that feeling of being the very first person to cross a brand new bridge.
Sure, you'll probably be OK. Probably.
My brain registers a positive signal when others try something new and return better-for-the-experience. Another part of my brain is absorbing that signal into my personal risk-assessment of the situation.
Clearly, part of our survival mechanism is...
Well, it didn't kill Bob.
But in other areas, where risk is reduced, I’m the first in line. The Internet. The web. Digital music. Artificial Intelligence. To most people, I’d be considered an extreme early-adopter of these technologies.
I just wouldn’t depend on them, as the infrastructure for a mission critical system- or invest in them in any way that could result in mayhem & destruction.
My entire career as an executive consultant has demanded that I toe that line.
My clients demand that I be conservative about risk, but make certain that important new opportunities are captured and embraced.
If you’re too early to market, or bet on the wrong tech foundation, your venture is a sailboat without wind and you will die of starvation. This was the path of the Apple Newton, Betamax, Mini-discs, and Google Glass.
But if you’re not fast enough on a good opportunity, you lose the first-mover advantage and that can be just as catastrophic.
Just ask Microsoft when Google beat them to the Internet, and then dominated the desktop for the next 20 years.
Just ask Google after Microsoft beat them to AI. We’ve yet to see what would happen there... but it's clear that MS was ready for The Next Big Change. They weren't about to let that happen again.
It’s fun to watch.
Which Path to Choose?
Humans and ants seem to share a similar balance.
Most humans feel a strong drive towards social conformity, while a small portion have an intense appetite for opportunity and risk.
Those risk-takers are the Ronin. The Outliers. The ants that follow no path.
Sometimes those outliers blow up rocket ships in the pursuit of a manned mission to Mars. Sometimes they find a noodle that can feed a colony.
At a societal level, both mindsets are essential. Dial those tendencies too far in one direction, and we're all sheeple with no shepherd. Dial them too far in the opposite direction, and we have anarchy and chaos.
But what about at the individual level?
Is there a a formula where you can decide when to follow the crowd, and when to go-it-alone?
It seems clear there’s no universal answer here.
Some of those outlier ants might find a noodle, but a lot of them don't return home. Especially if I find them sniffing around my computer desk.
Thpt. That one won't be making it back.
Instinct and luck must play a huge part in an outlier's success... and survival.
But following the herd isn't always safe either.
The Wisdom of the Crowd
In 1906, a Victorian-era statistician and polymath named Sir Francis Galton observed a contest where 787 participants tried to guess the weight of an ox. The answers varied wildly, but after the contest, Galton analyzed the guesses of the participants and found that the median guess was extremely close to the actual weight of the ox.
This led him to the idea that the collective wisdom of a diverse group can produce accurate results, even if individual guesses vary widely.
This phenomena has been studied and repeated many times and it is popularly known as the Wisdom of the Crowd.
But let's change the ox game just a bit.
Let's change it so that the participant's guesses are known to each other, and the participants can influence each other.
A different thing happens...
How Herding is Different
If the participants are influenced by each other's guesses, it can lead to herd behavior, where everyone converges on an incorrect answer.
This is known as herding.
This important distinction makes me think about a lot of things.
It makes me reflect on the impact of social media on voting behavior. About how financial markets work. About fashion and consumer trends.
It makes me think about fake news, and false beliefs. About religion, and cults. About riots and the tragedy of mass panic in a crowded theatres.
It makes me think about psychological phenomena like false safety in numbers, peer pressure and information cascades.
"Everyone else is doing it" might result in a sense of short-term “safety” and the reward of social acceptance, but at what cost?
Would we be doing these things if others were not doing them first?
Except dick pics obviously. We'd all be doing that.
Ant Invasion. A success story?
Zoom out, and we're the ants.
On the whole, most of us feel much more comfortable going the same way everyone else has gone, and eating the same things everyone else is eating.
And then there are the outliers, roaming the curtains, the ceiling, exploring the top of the refrigerator. The curious ones who break the rules, and forge out on their own.
They might not make it back. Or they might strike gold.
Their life is probably not safer. But I wonder if their life is better, and more interesting. It's always the outliers that find the good stuff, and make the new discoveries.
And as much as I value that, I notice my actual real-life decisions are often a bit herd-oriented. It's wired deep.
And it's clearly the safe choice.
Or is it?
Right now, that ant superhighway is going directly to a tasty little pile of "nest killer", and they're all happily gobbling it up and carrying it home.
The crowd can be wise, but this does not mean that being a sheeple is safe.
"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." – Jiddu Krishnamurti
"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." – Mark Twain
"The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity." – Rollo May
"If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking." – George S. Patton
BROJO: Confidence. Clarity. Connection.
Join BROJO - the premier international self-development community - FREE!
- Connect with like-minded people who will support you with your goals and issues
- Overcome people-pleasing and Nice Guy Syndrome to build strong social confidence
- Get access to exclusive online courses to learn advanced social skills, how to master your psychology, proven career progression techniques and more
10 Dumb Viral Internet Challenges
That lots of people have actually done.
- Tide Pod Challenge: This involved individuals, primarily teenagers, biting into Tide laundry detergent pods and recording their reactions. Consuming these pods can be poisonous and potentially deadly.
- Cinnamon Challenge: Participants attempted to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon without drinking any water. This can lead to choking, breathing difficulties, and damage to the lungs.
- Salt and Ice Challenge: Individuals poured salt on their skin and then placed an ice cube over it. This causes a burning sensation, and it can lead to frostbite-like injuries.
- Fire Challenge: This involved individuals setting themselves on fire and then trying to put out the flames quickly, often while being recorded. It has led to severe burns and injuries.
- Bird Box Challenge: Inspired by the Netflix movie "Bird Box," participants would blindfold themselves and then try to carry out various activities. This often resulted in accidents.
- Outlet Challenge: This challenge involved partially inserting a phone charger into an electrical outlet and then trying to produce a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny. This can cause electrical fires or electrocution.
- Choking Game: Also known as the "fainting game," this challenge involved people choking themselves or others to experience a brief high or rush. It's extremely dangerous and has resulted in several deaths.
- Condom Snorting Challenge: Participants would snort a condom up one nostril and then try to pull it out of their mouth. This poses obvious choking risks.
- Hot Water Challenge: This involved pouring boiling water on unsuspecting victims or having individuals drink boiling water through a straw. It led to severe burns and some fatalities.
- Benadryl Challenge: This challenge, which emerged on TikTok, encouraged users to take excessive amounts of the over-the-counter antihistamine Benadryl to hallucinate. Overdosing on Benadryl can be extremely dangerous and can lead to serious heart problems, seizures, or death.
Median v. Mean
Both the median and the mean are measures of central tendency, which help to identify the center of a data set. However, they are calculated differently and can give different insights about the data. Here's a breakdown:
- Mean (Arithmetic Average):
- > The mean is calculated by adding up all the numbers in a data set and then dividing by the number of values in that set.
- > Formula for the mean: Mean=Sum of all data points Number of data points Mean=Number of data points Sum of all data points
- > The mean can be influenced by outliers (extremely high or low values). For instance, if one person in a group has an extremely high income, the mean income for the group will be higher, possibly giving a misleading impression about typical incomes in the group.
- > The median is the middle value in a data set when the numbers are arranged in ascending or descending order. If there is an even number of values, the median is the average of the two middle numbers.
- > It's less sensitive to outliers compared to the mean. So, in data sets with significant outliers or when the data is skewed, the median can often give a better sense of the "typical" value.
- > For example, consider the data set: 1, 3, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9. The median here is 6 since it's the middle number. If the data set were: 1, 3, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 15, the median would be 6+72=6.526+7=6.5.
- The mean is the average value of a data set.
- The median is the middle value when the data is sorted.
Depending on the nature and distribution of the data, one measure might be more informative or appropriate than the other.