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The Hidden Factor: Why Thinking Differently Is Your Greatest Asset

The Hidden Factor: Why Thinking Differently Is Your Greatest Asset

Professor Scott E. Page Ph.D.
University of Michigan
Course No.  5133
Course No.  5133
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture
From technology to business, two (or more) heads often prove to be better than one—but only if those heads are cognitively diverse. Top-performing companies, universities, and innovation centers are increasingly finding ways to encourage a greater exchange of ideas among their staff. Scientific journals continue to see the number of authors per paper rise, while both Nobel Prizes and patents are frequently granted to teams. The need for group problem solving has never been more critical. So what’s driving the demand?
  • The changing nature of work: The complexity of challenges faced by today’s “creative class” has produced a new reliance on teams. A group with diverse experience and education can often more effectively provide solutions by bringing myriad viewpoints to the table.
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From technology to business, two (or more) heads often prove to be better than one—but only if those heads are cognitively diverse. Top-performing companies, universities, and innovation centers are increasingly finding ways to encourage a greater exchange of ideas among their staff. Scientific journals continue to see the number of authors per paper rise, while both Nobel Prizes and patents are frequently granted to teams. The need for group problem solving has never been more critical. So what’s driving the demand?
  • The changing nature of work: The complexity of challenges faced by today’s “creative class” has produced a new reliance on teams. A group with diverse experience and education can often more effectively provide solutions by bringing myriad viewpoints to the table.
  • Demographic trends and technology: Technology is making the world smaller and connecting us with diverse sets of people and ideas. Our cultural identities influence everything from the books we read to the stories we hear in childhood and, thus, the way we make sense of the world.

Diverse perspectives are a powerful tool for maximizing productivity and enhancing collective performance. Believe it or not, you can even be “diverse” all by yourself. You can, to quote Walt Whitman, “contain multitudes.”

The Hidden Factor: Why Thinking Differently Is Your Greatest Asset is your opportunity to learn the strategies that make you a more diverse thinker and position you to break down institutional silos and build robust, effective teams. Delivered by Professor Scott E. Page of the University of Michigan—a pioneering researcher in his field—these 24 thought-provoking lectures are packed with case studies, cautionary tales, and formal mathematical methods that prove the case for cognitive difference.

Whether you’re in a leadership position or striving to advance your career, Professor Page’s techniques will train you to

  • tackle problems with the right mix of individuals,
  • drive innovation and avoid collapse,
  • adapt to changing circumstances and challenges,
  • forecast outcomes with greater accuracy, and
  • identify conditions in which diversity trumps ability.

By teaching you to “see around the bend” and analyze decisions from multiple perspectives, The Hidden Factor even has practical benefits beyond the workplace. From determining which house to buy to where to invest your money, life requires making smart predictions at every turn.

Build a Winning Team

At the outset of the course, Professor Page acknowledges the elephant in the room: that diversity is a politically charged term. Although there is a strong correlation between identity diversity (differences in cultural backgrounds) and cognitive diversity (differences in how people think), the professor makes it clear that the focus of this course is cognitive diversity and how we can leverage it to solve complex problems.

In The Hidden Factor, you’ll learn diversity creates a significant advantage on multiple levels:

  • As an individual: You’ll benefit personally by being able to view problems from multiple perspectives and by building a diverse tool kit.
  • As a team: Teams of cognitively diverse people can produce more ideas, find better solutions, encounter fewer mistakes, and make better forecasts than will individuals or homogeneous groups.
  • As a society: Diverse societies are productive, innovative, and interesting, while societies that lack diversity risk collapse.

Of particular use to those in management or hiring positions, The Hidden Factor demonstrates how variety in staffing engenders organizational strength. Typically, candidates are evaluated in a linear fashion on the basis of how a certain skill applies to a certain task. However, new hires bring along “toolboxes” filled with unique perspectives that current employees may not offer.

To illustrate this key tenet of the course, Professor Page uses a number of eye-opening examples and mental exercises. One such scenario highlights the tests that companies like Microsoft and Google administer to job applicants. Talent-based logic implies only those with the highest scores should be hired. Diversity-based logic says otherwise.

Say you have three applicants for two positions on a team. Each is asked 10 questions, and the scores are as follows:

Candidate A: 7
Candidate B: 8
Candidate C: 8

Following talent logic, you should add candidates B and C to the team. But diversity logic suggests that you look at the distribution of questions answered correctly in addition to the scores.

Applicants B and C each get 1 through 8 correct but cannot solve question 9 or 10. Applicant A misses 1 through 3, but correctly answers 4 through 10. Diversity-based logic tells you that the team will do better if it contains cognitively diverse people, so you should hire person A and either B or C.

Make More Accurate Predictions

Throughout the course, formal mathematical models nail down the logic behind the professor’s conclusions. While the theorems and formulas are important for understanding the conditions necessary for a proposition, a love of numbers is not required to master the concepts. As Professor Page walks you through the math, you’ll arrive at some astounding realizations—such as the fact that diversity and ability are of equal value in producing collective wisdom. Also, a diverse crowd will always be more accurate than its average member.

You’ll also see the central role forecasting plays in organizations and even in your daily life. Not only is it important for nuts and bolts operational issues, it enables more effective design of products and policies. In order to give people what they want, you must know what they want, and that involves forecasting.

You’ll learn many heuristics, or tools, for making smart predictions:

  • Analogies allow you to make estimates about an unknown entity by using the value of something comparable.
  • The Fermi method/dimensional analysis breaks an estimate into parts, and then multiplies those parts together.
  • Linear decomposition relies on dividing a whole intoparts and then finding the sum of those parts, assuming the value of the individual components is known.
  • Trend analysis is based on what statisticians call a time series. This method uses a sequence of data—such as daily temperatures or stock prices—to forecast the future.

While the models presented are not “all-knowing oracles,” they do provide strong foundations from which to launch the decision-making process.

In a rapidly changing world, it’s imperative to stay agile by possessing a diverse set of tools. Institutional practices that may have worked well in previous years may cease to perform as the landscape changes. The Hidden Factor recounts numerous noteworthy examples of large-scale failure and collapse, a common cause of which is groupthink. From the U.S. housing market crash to the fall of entire civilizations, you’ll take an in-depth look at reasons this phenomenon occurs and strategies to avoid it.

A One-of-a-Kind Experience

As a leading expert on complexity and diversity, Professor Page offers his original research alongside that of other noted practitioners to put you on the cutting edge of this field. His engaging, often humorous teaching style leaves no doubt why he is a sought-after lecturer at top universities, businesses, and nonprofit organizations.

All 24 lectures are filled with a colorful array of down-to-earth analogies and examples that illuminate the intriguing, perception-shifting concepts at the core of this ambitious course. Professor Page also provides concrete, factual logic undergirding this hidden factor of success. Charts, graphs, and other images clarify the data, while math equations make the lessons easy to follow.

The Hidden Factor clearly demonstrates that the problems facing society will grow ever more complex as the low-hanging fruit all but disappears. Leveraging diversity isn’t as simple as counting up the number of types and saying more is better; it requires the proper connections and interactions between those diverse parts. Stay competitive by training your mind to think differently with this invaluable course.

View Less
24 Lectures
  • 1
    Individual Diversity and Collective Performance
    In this opening lecture, Professor Page shares his intellectual excitement for the topic of diversity as he presents an outline for the course. Explanations of the importance of diversity, the types of diversity you will be covering, and the “big ideas” that motivate the course lay the groundwork for the discussion ahead. x
  • 2
    Why Now? The Rise of Diversity
    How do cognitive diversity and identity diversity differ? Where do they intersect? Investigate the key trends that have made diversity such a hot topic and understand why leveraging diversity of thought is necessary to meet today’s challenges. x
  • 3
    Diversity Squared
    What does the professor really mean when he says “diversity”? Examine the connotations commonly associated with the term and how the notion of diversity is changing. Further your understanding of the connection between cognitive and identity diversity as you begin your exploration of the “diversity bonus.” x
  • 4
    The Wisdom of Crowds
    How can diverse ways of thinking contribute to a group’s ability to make accurate predictions? Walk through the diversity prediction theorem using clear examples—from guessing the weight of a steer to the height of the tallest building in Rio de Janeiro—to learn why the diversity and talent level of a crowd’s members play equal roles. x
  • 5
    The Diversity Prediction Theorem Times Three
    Now, turn to another application of forecasting: using knowledge of a population to more appropriately serve it. Analyze the case of the Netflix Prize—where teams competed to outperform the company’s movie-prediction model, Cinematch—to see how putting a diverse “ensemble” of ideas into action proved successful in the real world. x
  • 6
    The Weighting Is the Hardest Part
    Determining how much we listen to some people at the expense of others requires careful analysis. Learn strategies for assembling productive teams by zeroing in on the conditions that make assigning unequal weights to certain opinions and predictions desirable. x
  • 7
    Foxes and Hedgehogs—Can I Be Diverse?
    The course of your life depends on a handful of key decisions that are based on making predictions, from where you live to the career you choose. Compare the traits of the “fox,” who knows many things, and the “hedgehog,” who knows one big thing, to see how being a many-model thinker can impact your ability to make more accurate predictions. x
  • 8
    Fermi’s Barbers—Estimating and Predicting
    Hone your predictive skills with a discussion of four models: analogies, Fermi’s method or dimensional analysis, linear decomposition, and trend analysis. Learn which types of phenomena may be predicted—and which cannot—and why in this information age, we need to make estimations and predictions at all. x
  • 9
    Problem Solving
    As you turn your attention to problem solving, trace the ways it differs from prediction and how diverse heuristics—tricks, algorithms, and rules of thumb—can help devise better solutions. In this lecture, you’ll encounter a key insight of the course: A person’s contribution depends on individual talent and diversity relative to the team in equal measure. x
  • 10
    Diverse Perspectives
    Laser technology exists because Einstein saw light in a completely new way. Charge ahead with problem solving by exploring how a new perspective can bring order to complex questions. Analyze how diverse perspectives expand the set of the “adjacent possible,” and play a game of Sum to 15 to see how new perspectives can be transcendent. x
  • 11
    Heuristics and the Adjacent Possible
    Take your study of the “adjacent possible” to the next level by considering how diverse heuristics produce outside-the-box thinking and transcendent perspectives simplify difficult problems. Learn how individuals, organizations, and computers all use heuristics of varying levels of sophistication, and why computers may have an advantage. x
  • 12
    Diversity Trumps Ability
    A diverse group can outperform a team of the best talent, provided the problems are hard, the people differ, and the members have germane knowledge. Hear about the experiments that opened the professor’s eyes to diversity’s value in problem solving. Then, learn how the diversity prediction theorem illustrates how differences in perspectives and heuristics enable us to find better solutions. x
  • 13
    Digging Holes and Splicing Genes
    Delve more deeply into the diversity prediction theorem. Think about its implications for groups and individuals, and how it adds to your understanding of the paradigm-shifting trends related to changes in the nature of work, global demographics, and the proliferation of technology. Conclude with a look at models that inform decisions of hiring and college admissions. x
  • 14
    Ability and Diversity
    Can people be ranked in order of intelligence? Consider IQ tests in light of the course’s toolbox model of intelligence. Then, shift to a tree-of-knowledge-style model to think about with greater subtlety the connections between diversity and ability. Learn how to balance those elements and effectively structure teams for maximum output. x
  • 15
    Combining and Recombining Heuristics
    From the telegraph to the laser, a great deal of innovation stems from taking existing ideas, technologies, and tools and recombining them. Explore how ideas combine and recombine to drive economic growth. Then, probe how society can ensure continued innovation. Do we let people own ideas? Or do we set them free? x
  • 16
    Beware of False Prophets—No Free Lunch
    In a rapidly changing, complex world, having a diverse set of tools is imperative. In this lecture, you’ll focus on formal and informal heuristics—procedures that try to improve performance—through a comparison of popular business and self-help books. Then, ponder opposite proverbs and the “no free lunch” theorem to comprehend the conditionality of heuristics. x
  • 17
    Crowdsourcing and the Limits of Diversity
    Big companies like Microsoft and Pfizer don’t necessarily make their problems and solutions public. Would they be better off if they did? Revisit the Netflix competition and look at other fascinating case studies as you weigh the benefits and limitations of crowdsourcing, the practice of offering up a problem to a population. x
  • 18
    Experimentation, Variation, and Six Sigma
    How do diversity and variation differ? Analyze how variation can make individual and system-level performance more robust by enabling faster adaptation. Conversely, learn about the six sigma movement toward anti-variation and when variation should be prevented through minimizing experimentation. x
  • 19
    Diversity and Robustness
    Before discussing how diversity contributes to system robustness, the professor takes a moment to reiterate the definition of robustness and the differences between variation and diversity. Analyze how portfolio effects, Ashby’s law of requisite variety, and redundancy and overlap support the case for diversity. x
  • 20
    Inescapable Benefits of Diversity
    Diverse ecologies, cities, and groups often outperform their homogeneous counterparts. Learn why this is often the case, then identify why additional contributions sometimes produce negative results or diminishing returns. Participate in a thought experiment involving diverse ecosystems to drive home the lesson. x
  • 21
    The Historical Value of Diversity
    See how the need for diversity has echoed throughout human history by evaluating how lack of cognitive difference leads to stagnation. You’ll weigh the literal implications of the business adage “adapt or die” through tales of collapsed civilizations, including the Easter Islanders, the Anasazi of the American Southwest, and the Mayans of Central America. x
  • 22
    Homophily, Incentives, and Groupthink
    Groups aren’t always productive. In this lecture, the professor cautions against the dangers of groupthink and defines four processes that explain why it occurs: conformity, drift, homophily, and common incentives. Learn strategies to avoid the phenomenon, both as an individual who wants to stand out from the crowd and as an organization. x
  • 23
    The Problem of Diverse Preferences
    Can disagreement be desirable? Through a more in-depth look at homophily—the propensity to associate with like-minded people—and Arrow’s impossibility theorem, see how preference diversity creates problems and why good outcomes are often conflated with comfort. Discern the key differences between fundamental disagreements vs. instrumental disagreements. x
  • 24
    The Team. The Team. The Team.
    What challenges should you take on? What should your objective function be? In this final lecture, you’ll understand the critical importance of teams sharing a common goal, as well as the case for embracing dissent. You’ll revisit preference diversity to pinpoint conditions in which it can hinder progress or help prevent collapse. x

Lecture Titles

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Scott E. Page
Ph.D. Scott E. Page
University of Michigan

Dr. Scott E. Page is Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Political Science, Complex Systems, and Economics at the University of Michigan, where he has taught since 2000. The holder of a master's degree in Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. in Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences from Northwestern University, Professor Page has also been Professor of Economics at the California Institute of Technology and at the University of Iowa. For the past 15 years, he has maintained an active involvement with the Santa Fe Institute-the interdisciplinary think tank recognized as the nerve center of research into complexity theory-where he is an external faculty member. His many honors as both scholar and educator include teaching awards earned at Cal Tech, Northwestern, and Michigan. The author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies and the coauthor of Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life, Professor Page has also lectured, consulted, and published across a diverse range of disciplines, including economics, political science, ecology, physics, management, public health, and computer science.

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by 6 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Very good - with recommendations for the next one The other reviews are correct and I won't repeat here except to say - this course is absolutely amazing. It's a great look at how individuals and groups work, and how diversity can help them work a lot better. Dr. Page is a polymath, so he brings a lot of different interests to the course. I particularly enjoyed all the math so we know the substance of the material. The graphics are particularly well done in this course. I'm not a fan of having the cameras on the speaker move in and out and up and down, but outside of that everything else really adds to the presentation - well done! Two recommendations stand out to me that would be good for the next course. First, almost every theorist referenced in this course is male, many are caucasian, and American (or working in an American institution). For a course on diversity, I was expecting to learn from a much broader range of scholars than I saw here. It would be useful to see scholarship from around the world, people with disabilities, people of color, more women, the broadest possible range of ages, and much more. The group of scholars cited in this course felt very narrow compared to what is available. More valuable to me is all of Dr. Page's experience working with groups or companies or NGOs, etc. Yet precious little of that experience is given in this course or the book. The course makes an excellent case for diversity, but there are precious few practical examples from his experience given, probably due to time constraints. We don't get case studies on how companies responded to or implemented diversity, the challenges they faced and how they overcame those challenges - or what prevented them from implementing diversity. He does reference one situation in his own experience with a law firm, and a few others (such as the Netflix prize) but the next course would greatly benefit from much more depth from his experience. Thus my recommendation for the next course - have much more diversity in the scholars who are presented, and show real examples from beginning to end - some successful and some not - so the viewer is much better prepared to implement or support diversity in many different settings, and knows how to respond to any number of issues that may come up. My review is still five stars, hopefully the next Diversity course will be just as strong this one. December 15, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by without question, essential! A difficult but absolutely essential course for those who value thinking and whose frustration with groups, organizations, governments begs for an understanding of how those groups work, or don't. This course is fantastic, and one that I will return to in six months. To say that each lecture stimulated in me an idea a minute would probably be quite accurate. For example, we just completed the building of a new regional hospital. Or rather, they did. They is the administration, and in marketing their seeming achievement, they have pointed again and again to their own enlisting of diverse groups to inform their own decisions. Was diversity valued, or merely window dressing? Understanding group-think, homophily, drift, and conformity helped to understand my own discomfiture over this process of hospital building, and my disquiet about its future in a competitive world. Recently, I was elected to a very prestigious governing body at a blue chip university, as the "president-elect' of the organization. My first meeting was a "love in" of like-minded people, and Dr. Page has shown me the task before me. Page's lessons are for all of us, and not just for those lions of business. As difficult as many of the lectures are to apprehend, they are so well worth the effort. October 23, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by Best Purchase Evr Seriously, the Government should be playing this on public airwaves constantly. Buy this and all of the courses concerning memory. You don't even HV to practice, just pay attention to the material. I tend to watch at 2x speed. Think. July 29, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by Brilliant, Inspiring, Spell Binding!!! I could not stop learning from Dr. Page!! This lecture set is captivating in both the delivery and topic substance. The professor is brilliant, thorough, and someone I will continue to follow at the Great Courses. Also, this is not a course listen to while driving; it requires solid focus. I normally play the courses early in the morning while enjoying a coffee; I soon realized a note pad and total mental awareness was critical. Dr.Page includes a great amount of diverse supporting information to provide a holistic perspective. I have a son starting the dissertation phase of a Ph.D program in systems engineering and I am going to recommend he discuss his research topic with Dr. Page. I had previously purchased the professor's earlier short lecture on Complexity and it was a wonderful learning experience. This tape set is a must buy!!! November 29, 2012
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