Andy’s Quick Hits (83): Followers Make Group Decisions a Lot Worse, or a Lot Better

Andy Hab
3 min readSep 9, 2021

First off, why is group decision-making important?
Well, a lot (just about all, if you think about it) of the biggest decisions in society and in business are made by groups: executive committees, governments, even the population in referendums.

What do you mean by followers in this context?
Well, when faced with a decision or a problem to solve, we can dig into the information ourselves, do background research, and come up with an independent decision. On the other hand I can follow the lead of others.

Is this particularly common?
Think of a general election. How many people really analyse government policy and strategy and come up with a personal critical analysis of this? Most people simply follow party lines or people they trust and believe — they are therefore followers.

But surely executive committees in business are better informed?
You have got to be kidding... apologies, sorry, I shouldn’t be so sceptical. Yes in general they are well informed and more critical and thoughtful but they also have their own areas of expertise and lack this in other areas so they need to rely on others’ lead in many situations.

And what did these researchers notice with followers?
Well, first off, they noticed that groups of independent decision-makers chose high quality outcomes. This was, by the way, conducted by a group of researchers around Vicky Yang of the Santa Fe Institute (see reference at bottom).

Ok, so groups of independent decision makers is good, but what about followers?
Well, the really interesting thing is that above a critical threshold of followers (about 60%) then decisions vary in one of two directions with little middle ground. So, if there are a lot of followers following the cues of others, then they tend to make very good decisions, or very bad decisions!

Why’s that?
Anybody’s guess. But likely to do with who you follow. You may be following a confident imbecile or a confident genius.

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Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!