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IN DEFENSE OF THE COMMITTEE

The brilliance of the individual and the stupidity of the group or committee is one of the most poisonous ideas in modern society.

Scandinavians are very much a consensus-driven people. They discuss a lot. Managers are not supposed to impose their will but rather encourage consensus. What an awful place. Their companies must be a joke, their societies a shambles; because we all know that anything that involves—snigger, snigger—a committee must result in total stupidity.

Except that they’re not of course. Scandinavian societies are the most healthy, wealthy, best educated and most equal on earth. Are they perfect? Of course not. Because there is no such thing as perfection, just an endless work in progress.

It is an article of almost religious faith that committees make bad decisions while individuals make brilliant ones. The fawning deification of Steve Jobs left the distinct impression that Apple would implode the day after he died.

I often read TIME magazine and that means reading about the best athlete in the world, the best cook in the world, the one man who will save Europe, etc. etc. The European Union—the ultimate example of committees and consensus—is the butt of all jokes right now. Let me, as a citizen of Europe, just say that I really like and am proud of the European Union. Long may it be committee- and consensus-driven.

What caused the global financial mess in which we find ourselves? Many, many things, but certainly a major contributor was smartest-boy-in-the-room syndrome. Letting testosterone drunk, somewhat psychotic young men rule the world of finance with their complex financial gambling is a great example of individual brilliance at play.

The last time I heard it was a committee—or a series of committees—that invented the Internet. I read a lot about science and what really strikes me is that while we have Nobel Prize syndrome, nobody would ever win anything without the diligent work of thousands upon thousands of other scientists over centuries and centuries. But TIME magazine will tell us that there is one great scientist that rules them all.

The brilliant individual is not supposed to need data to make a decision. They don’t do research. They don’t take time to make decisions either. No, it’s gut instinct all the way down. Like a Western gun slinger, they decide first, ask questions later.

I’m not saying that we should do everything by committee. But we should be hugely skeptical of the individual macho cult. One of the hugely damaging imbalances in modern society is that ever-tinier elites are gathering more and more wealth and power. It will not end well.

I am optimistic. I see the slow emergence of a more rational, data-driven world where opinions are replaced by facts. Of course, there are dangers here too. It’s been said many times that there are “lies, damn lies, and statistics” And then, of course, there are opinions.

The future is collaborative and consensual. When I see organizations with successful websites I see the organization as a whole collaborating; IT and marketing and service and support working together. Let’s raise a cheer for the committee. It’s cool to be consensual.

mailto:gerry@gerrymcgovern.com

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