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The Difference

The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies (New Edition)

With a new preface by the author Scott E. Page
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    The Difference
    Book Description:

    In this landmark book, Scott Page redefines the way we understand ourselves in relation to one another.The Differenceis about how we think in groups--and how our collective wisdom exceeds the sum of its parts. Why can teams of people find better solutions than brilliant individuals working alone? And why are the best group decisions and predictions those that draw upon the very qualities that make each of us unique? The answers lie in diversity--not what we look like outside, but what we look like within, our distinct tools and abilities.

    The Differencereveals that progress and innovation may depend less on lone thinkers with enormous IQs than on diverse people working together and capitalizing on their individuality. Page shows how groups that display a range of perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts. Diversity yields superior outcomes, and Page proves it using his own cutting-edge research. Moving beyond the politics that cloud standard debates about diversity, he explains why difference beats out homogeneity, whether you're talking about citizens in a democracy or scientists in the laboratory. He examines practical ways to apply diversity's logic to a host of problems, and along the way offers fascinating and surprising examples, from the redesign of the Chicago "El" to the truth about where we store our ketchup.

    Page changes the way we understand diversity--how to harness its untapped potential, how to understand and avoid its traps, and how we can leverage our differences for the benefit of all.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3028-2
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior, Economics, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Preface to the Paperback Edition PRUFROCK AVOIDED
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  2. Acknowledgments THE CONTINUOUS LIFE
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
    (pp. xxv-xxxii)

    In 1993, I got my first real job, as an assistant professor of economics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, home of the Tournament of Roses. I lived one block from campus and one and a half blocks from the Caltech gym. I wore shorts to work every day—even when temperatures fell into the sixties. Apart from being hit in the head by a falling palm frond during a spell of Santa Ana winds, I had a wonderful time. Caltech offered me abundant resources and an environment that encouraged freewheeling exploration.

    One winter evening in 1995,...

  4. INTRODUCTION Unpacking Our Differences
    (pp. 1-18)

    In the summer of 2001, Alpheus (Alph) Bingham, a vice president of Eli Lilly, created a Web site for seekers—not Quidditch-playing adolescents in pursuit of golden snitches à la J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series—but large pharmaceutical companies in pursuit of solutions to scientific problems. These problems ran the gamut from tracing metal impurities to assessing the risks of breast cancer to detecting organic chemical vapors. Seekers posted their problems on Alph’s site along with an award of up to one hundred thousand dollars that they would pay for successful solutions. Anyone willing to register could be a...

  5. [Part One Introduction]
    (pp. 21-22)

    A book on diversity can find no better place to begin than by visiting Emerson, one of the greatest thinkers on diversity. Not only did Emerson celebrate and encourage differences, he dared mock those who did not think different—“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” In looking at a crowd of people in an auditorium, Emerson saw not a crowd but a collection of individuals. He saw each person as limited and diverse in what and how each perceived. He saw our experiences and moods as constraining our abilities to see the world in its fullness. Ideally,...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Diverse Perspectives HOW WE SEE THINGS
    (pp. 23-51)

    We all differ in how we see and interpret things. Whether considering a politician’s proposal for changes in welfare policy, a new front-loading washing machine, or an antique ceramic bowl, each of us uses a different representation. Each of us sees the thing, whatever it is, in our own way. We commonly refer to the ways we encode things asperspectives. But if asked what a perspective is, most of us would have only a crude idea. In this chapter I provide a formal definition, but before I get to that I’ll present an example of a famous perspective: the...

    (pp. 52-72)

    In a classic episode of the television showSeinfeld, Jerry’s bumbling friend George Costanza comes to the realization that every decision he has made in his life has been the wrong one. When he should have gone left, he went right. When he should have chosen up, he chose down. When he should have quit, he stayed. When he should have stayed, he quit. This realization results in an epiphany: he shoulddo the opposite. He should do the reverse of whatever he thinks is best. If the rules in his head tell him to be kind, he should be...

    (pp. 73-89)

    Meet A-Square. He lives on a two-dimensional world. Reality has three dimensions, of course, but A-Square sees only two, so he has something of a different interpretation of what he sees than the rest of us do. A-Square is a character in Edwin Abbot’s classicFlatland. The high point of the book is A-Square’s encounters with a sphere. The sphere tries to explain the third dimension to our poor benighted square. We might think of the sphere as not unlike modern string theorists who claim hidden dimensions to our own physical universe—dimensions we cannot see but which exist nonetheless....

    (pp. 90-102)

    Restaurants in Japan often advertise their fare by featuring plastic versions of their menu items in their windows. When American tourists visit Japan, they often shy away from these restaurants. These tourists predict—incorrectly, it turns out—that these restaurants cannot be good. After all, even Waffle House is too sophisticated to have plastic sausages and waffles in the window. These tourists are using interpretations to gauge a future event: they’re making predictions. Whereas an interpretation categorizes the set of possibilities, a predictive model describes what we think will happen in some context in light of our interpretations. We categorize...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Measuring Sticks and Toolboxes CALIPERS FOR THE BRAIN
    (pp. 103-128)

    The four frameworks—perspectives, heuristics, interpretations, and predictive models—turn people, including us, into plumbers. This metaphor has no bearing on how we wear our pants. What it means is that the frameworks are tools that each of us brings to the table or the chalkboard Each of us walks around carrying a toolbox filled with a variety tools. Our toolboxes become a framework for thinking about individual cognitive differences because each of us has a toolbox filled with different cognitive skills. We’re not all plumbers, although some of us are; others of us are carpenters, mechanics, aerospace engineers, or...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Diversity and Problem Solving DARWIN’S BRASS TACKS
    (pp. 131-174)

    Now that we’ve covered what cognitive diversity is—we’ve defined perspectives, heuristics, and so on—we get to the meat of the book: the demonstration that diversity produces benefits. We see why diversity may be as important as ability in some contexts, and how it can be even more important in others. In short, we show that diversity creates benefits. The proofs rely on the toolbox framework. We’ll see how perspectives, heuristics, interpretations, and predictive models aggregate. Throughout, I avoid making blanket statements that diversity is always good or always bad. Blankets cover things, and I do not want to...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Models of Information Aggregation MINDLESS SIGNALS
    (pp. 175-196)

    We turn now to the role of diversity in helping collections of people make accurate predictions, the so-called wisdom of crowds. People often think of predictions in the contexts of weather (it’s going to rain) or sports (Tiger will win the masters), but predictions are widespread. Firms predict sales. Colleges predict how many students will enroll. Governments predict the effects of policy changes. Society would not function if we could not predict with at least reasonable accuracy.

    We might think that a collection of moderately informed and knowledgeable individuals would not make very accurate predictions, but that’s not necessarily true....

  13. CHAPTER 8 Diversity and Prediction THE CROWD OF MODELS
    (pp. 197-236)

    In this chapter, we will apply the predictive model framework to explain the wisdom of crowds. The analysis culminates in two theorems:The Diversity Prediction TheoremandThe Crowds Beat Averages Law. The first states that a crowd’s collective accuracy equals the average individual accuracy minus their collective predictive diversity.¹ So for predictive tasks, the answer to the question, “how much does diversity matter?” is “just as much as ability.” No less. No more. The second states that the accuracy of the crowd’s prediction cannot be worse than the average accuracy of its members. Thus, the crowd necessarily predicts...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Diverse Preferences WHY TAPAS
    (pp. 239-254)

    We all differ in what we prefer. Some of us like old Craftsman houses. Some of us like modern houses with open floor plans. Some of us enjoy Latin jazz. Some of us prefer heavy metal. Some of us like spicy cooked food. Some of us are vegetarian. That’s fine. That’s the reason for tapas restaurants. Little plates, lots of different stuff. As has often been said, there’s no accounting for taste.¹ (Less often said is the equally true claim that there’s no taste for accounting.) Though we cannot account for taste, we can model it. And in this chapter,...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Preference Aggregation FOUR (NOT SO) DEPRESSING RESULTS
    (pp. 255-284)

    Now that we have a grounding in preference theory, we can analyze how diverse preferences aggregate—how diverse teams, communities, and societies make collective choices. We find problems. The results may at first seem depressing, but I suggest that the problems may not be as severe as we might think; I show that when preference diversity is instrumental but not fundamental, these problems may not be problems at all. Moreover, as we see in the next chapter, without preference diversity, we might not have as much of the other types of diversity. Because we differ in what we want, we...

  16. CHAPTER 11 Interacting Toolboxes and Preferences GO ASK ALICE
    (pp. 285-296)

    So far we have considered the effects of diverse toolboxes and diverse preferences in isolation. The brief summary goes as follows: diverse toolboxes good, diverse preferences not so good (but not so bad either). Our unpacking and careful recombining of parts allowed us to see the effects of each type of diversity. However, piece-by-piece unpackings lose the interplay between the various parts—in our case, the types of diversity. For this reason, we now explore the interactions between diverse toolboxes and diverse preferences on the various tasks.

    Our analysis of interactions will be far from exhaustive. I just want to...

  17. CHAPTER 12 The Causes of Cognitive Diversity FAMILY VACATIONS, COLLEGE, OR IDENTITY?
    (pp. 299-312)

    The time has come to look at the evidence, to see whether toolbox diversity improves problem solving and prediction, and to see whether fundamental preference diversity leads to conflict and frustration. Time and space permit only so much, but we don’t need much of either. The evidence speaks clearly:diversity produces benefits(cognitively diverse societies, cities, and teams perform better than more homogenous ones),fundamental preference diversity creates problems(public goods are underprovided and people don’t get along), and, finally,collections of people with diverse cognitive toolboxes and diverse fundamental preferences have higher-variance performance(they locate better outcomes and produce...

  18. CHAPTER 13 The Empirical Evidence THE PUDDING
    (pp. 313-336)

    We’ve walked—and worked—through the logic of diversity, and seen when and how it applies. And we just discussed some causes of diversity, so we are now ready to look at some of the empirical and experimental research related to our logical claims that diversity produces benefits. If diversity is as powerful as the models suggest, then its effects should be borne out in the same way that gravity’s effects are. The logic should be supported in data about economies and democracies, not just in cute examples about things like the NFL draft selections. So let’s see if this...

    (pp. 339-370)

    Now, we go on the offensive. The implications of this logic should be more than merely explanatory. Explanation has its place. Far better, though, that we leverage our understandings to make our lives and our world more interesting, more secure, more sustainable, and more productive. So in this final part of the book, I discuss how to apply what we’ve learned to building teams, hiring employees, admitting students, and designing political institutions. The scope is grand. We will contemplate estimating the amount of leather in a cow (as disgusting as that may be to animal rights activists), the functioning of...

    (pp. 371-376)

    In the summer of 2004, I gave a talk at the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute at Duke University for prospective graduate students in political science. The Bunchies, as they call themselves, comprise a diverse group of undergraduates from across the United States. I began my talk with a question that few expected, a question I have asked thousands of people, from CEOs to members of the military: Do you store your ketchup in the refrigerator or the cupboard?

    Among the Bunchies, about half stored their ketchup in the refrigerator. This percentage contrasts with some Midwestern and Wall Street audiences where...