I have observed this phenomenon many times in large information technology organizations: outside vendors will present PowerPoint shows about their solutions, qualifications, and client references. The leader-decision-maker thinks to himself for a few minutes, "Well, if the vendor has really solved those problems for clients like me, and we can afford it, it's a no brainer. All I need is a little due diligence, and I can chalk up a good decision."
Wade Roush, an interesting blogger over here, captured near verbatim the words of one of my favorite writers and thinkers, James Surowiecki, at this week's O'Reilly Emerging Technologies conference in San Diego. He's talking about the power of one decision--whether a good or bad one--to attract other would-be decision-makers like moths to a flame. It's a little scary. Thanks, Wade.
"Scientists call this an information cascade. Youve read The Tipping Point. Its the notion that once an information cascade gets going, it becomes very hard for people making decision later in the process not to do what everyone else has done. Say you have two restaurants, both empty, and theres no reason to think that one is better than the other. You go to the street corner, look in, and decide Ill go to this one. The next couple comes along and has the same problem. They see youre in one restaruant, and they say well go there. Pretty sooon everyone assumes there is some value to the fact that everybody is in one restaurant, even there wasnt. It can be proved mathematically that after a certain point it becomes rational to do what everyone else is doing, even if you have information that suggests the opposite is true. As long as you assume that everyone else is rational, that is. Thats what The Tipping Point is all about. People no longer making decisions on their own, but simply because those in front of them have done the same. Quality has little to do with what ends up getting chosen. Collective decisions may not be in any sense tied to quality. The result: the group as a whole becomes less intelligent. On the web, the key factor in a site getting more links is how many links it already has. In that model there is no guarantee that the group as a whole is intelligent. The wisdom of crowds does not emerge."