Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Group Think and Assimilation (Updated)

Don’t you just love it when someone new stumbles onto a message board you’ve harbored at for years, asks a seemingly simple question, and gets dog piled with responses containing the same answer?

I’ll give you some examples:

Q. Where should I invest my IRA money?
A. Vanguard. (36 responses)
In this day and age, you know where I'd rather invest it.

Q. Which brokerage should I use?
A. Scottrade. (18 responses)
Nowadays, I'd recommend NOT using a broker at all if you can avoid it.

Q. Where should I refinance my home mortgage?
A. Countrywide Mortgage. (22 responses)
So much for THAT idea!

Q. Which warehouse club has the best deals?
A. BJ’s is cheapest for membership, but Costco has the best selection. (14 responses)
Today, BJ's and Costco have merged, so they're essentially one in the same, but Costco costs more to join. Around here, Sam's Club has the cheapest membership fee.

You see that asking for more information specific to the original inquisitor’s situation followed none of these questions. This is what I will dub “the Eight Ball Effect”—the conversational essence of turning over that black eight ball toy for the answer to all of life’s questions. This is group think at its finest.

One answer does NOT fit all situations.

The “answer committee” hasn’t done new research, and no new information exists therein, unless it happens to be discovered and introduced by a committee member himself. Then others from the committee will go look into this new data and make reports back to the group, either approving or disparaging. The new information gets assimilated into the committee’s black ball of answers, and the old advice gets discarded.

Remember the Borg from Star Trek TNG episodes? This is Borg-like behavior--"take our advice, because resistance is futile."

Sometimes, if someone asks a question that requires a “regional” answer, such as where to go for the best grocery store shopping, then the committee members resort to their own personal eight balls for an answer. Many assorted answers will come forth, such as Trader Joe’s, Aldi’s, or some sort of allusion to coupon use and unit pricing, dissolving the conversation into a new discussion on the best methods TO shop with no mention of WHERE to do it.

Here’s another:

Q. What’s the best way to reduce or eliminate ATM fees?
A. Get cash back at the grocery store when using your card. (5 responses)

No query as to whether or not this seeker was in the U.S., or if his card was even ACCEPTED in grocery stores! In this particular case (several posts later), he said he was in Hawaii and his bank was in California. I suspect he was a military man--most likely navy. Some navy-related credit union cards aren’t accepted in grocery stores. I would’ve written, “better cash planning” as my answer and left it at that.

And another:

Q. How can I raise my baby frugally?
A. Cloth diapers, homemade wipes, homemade toys, and home cooking. (a consensus of 272 responses)

I don’t know how much broader you can get without more information from the seeker. We know nothing about the age or health of the baby OR the parent! The obvious answer to me is, “why have the baby when you didn’t have a financial plan for it?” Alas, it’s not like we can send them back when we fail to plan for these things.

The satirical answer would be: lift your baby over your head--it doesn't cost a dime to do this!

Or this beauty:

Q. How can I reuse jars?
A. As other containers. (a consensus of 134 responses)

My answer would’ve been to purchase things that don’t have wasteful packaging in the first place. This is why I’m so amused with the goings-on of message boards and group think—there’s no opportunity for individual thinking or an original response. God forbid you come up with a clever and inventive idea, before the herd stomps you down with their conventional wisdom, then ousts you for not bearing the same brand as the rest of them.

The whole group think affliction stems from visitors seeking the quick and easy answers to mundane questions. The Group Think Committee ought to put it right on the front door—“You Want Quick Easy Answers? We Got ‘Em Right Here!” The thing everyone misses, though, when venturing into Quick and Easy land is this: the answers might not be timely or accurate for your situation.

Before you ask the opinions of other, even well meaning others, do some homework first to find out what’s currently available, and what would work best for your situation. If you want to compare what you’ve found with the advice of an “answer committee,” then by all means do so…just don’t forget the salt shaker when you do, because it probably isn't worth a grain of salt. Please—for the sake of MY sanity—resort to “you think” before resorting to group think, because I may be reading the message board you happen to post to.


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