Crowd Dynamics Can Offer Up Plenty Of Fresh Ideas

Published in San Diego Union-Tribune, November 23, 2015

The wisdom of crowds. James Surowiecki made this concept famous in his 2004 book. This is not the same as crowdfunding (quite the hot topic today). Rather the thesis argues that the aggregation of information from a group leads to a better “answer” than if made by any single member of that group.

Surowiecki gives the famous example of trying to ascertain the weight of oxen at the county fair. The average of all the guesses was the closest to the actual weight – and closer than any single guess from all the participants.

Crowd dynamics are fascinating in everything from riots in the street to the god-awful wave at ballgames. The crowd has a mind of its own.

So a couple of weeks ago, I challenged my readers to play the ultimatum game (see column from Nov. 2). And what I found was that the “crowd of readers” was very original in their thinking and came up with fascinating and unconventional ways to split the money. The classic is 50-50, but now for some new ideas.

“I will give you 70 percent, but the stipulation is that 60 percent of your money goes into a mutual fund investment and after five years, we split the proceeds 50-50.” This guy also offered an email address for a Nigerian prince.

Several readers suggested I take all the money and invest it in a startup – namely theirs. They did not stipulate the pre-money valuation.

(Note: You can name your price or you can name your terms, but you can’t name both.)

Another reader said 50-50 “for the first time, but the next time, much more to me.” I responded by telling him there would be no next time.

Another kind lady also went 50-50 and wrote “gratitude, charity and prosperity are a mind-set replacing greed and self-interest.” This woman should run for public office.

One woman gave me a complicated real-life negotiation to solve. This reminds me to be careful what I wish for, I may get it.

Another reader wrote a long treatise to explain that if I were a “friend” he would give me 40 percent, but since he figures he will never see me again, he is offering only 33 percent to me, the rest to him. I guess friendship is fungible.

Several said 60-40 my favor, hoping we could do more business together in the future. This leads to another famous paradigm. One party is hopeful for reciprocation, and offers first and generously, but then turns deeply angry when I take the money and run and offer nothing further in return. The retort, “that’s not fair,” echoes loudly down the halls of many grand institutions, when they leave the little guy in the lurch.

And finally good old philanthropy did rear its ugly head. Dan Beintema wrote to me, “I will give you $335, but for every dollar you give away, I will double match it up to $665.” This fellow understood the multiplier effect of giving – and then I learned that Mr. Beintema is president of the USS Midway Foundation. Duh.

Women and tech ‘upspeak’

So, as many of you know, I consider myself the poster child for smart, powerful women. (I married one). And I am their biggest fan. Well, along comes some white male tech billionaires at the Dealbook conference and they have something to say on that subject.

Peter Thiel, PayPal, and Chris Sacca, Twitter and Uber, got together recently in Silicon Valley to discuss many things – one of which was women in tech and why there are not more of them in C-level positions. Thiel was marginally clueless but Sacca took a healthy cut at the topic, criticizing the culture for not grooming women better for leadership positions.

“We don’t have a culture that teaches girls financial literacy,” Sacca said. “We have a princess manufacturing complex.” And then he launched one. He said that people in the Bay Area tended toward “upspeak,” which is a rising inflection in speech pattern. He says, “men can get away with it, but women who adopt that speech pattern are not taken seriously.”

Seriously! You must be kidding me. You want all women to change their speech inflections in order to be taken more seriously. Seriously? I am up-speechless at the inanity of his comment. You think that is why more women are not in the C-suite. Please!

Rule No. 444

Watch the movie “Thelma and Louise” and check out their 9mm upspeak.

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