Science Fiction Repair Shop: The Smartest People In The Room Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014-02-09 15:00:00 No comments

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The problem with getting a room full of smart people together is that the group’s world view gets skewed. There are many reasons that a working group filled with experts don’t consistently produce great results. For example, many of the participants can be humble about their knowledge so they tend to think that a good chunk of the people that will be using their technology will be just as enlightened. Bad feature ideas can be argued for months and rationalized because smart people, lacking any sort of compelling real world data, are great at debating and rationalizing bad decisions.

I suspect there's a name for this kind of effect: you assume that your brains have entitled you to dispense with processing evidence directly, and instead proceed to a conclusion by way of pure thought.

But in the end, this is a by-product of putting too many of the same kind of people together, period. Pack a room full of geniuses, squeeze out all the air, and their own unquestioned assumptions about things will leave them just as hamstring as a room full of idiots.

Now for the obligatory SF&F / nerd / geek / otaku tie-in.

I might have mentioned before how I got into anime by way of being interested in Japanese culture generally, and one of the mistakes I made at the time — even with Western anime fandom being in a relatively nascent state — was assuming everyone else into anime would have followed the same path as me. I found myself at odds a lot of the time with fellow fans, because many of them didn't express an automatic interest in Japan per se. Many of them were just looking for something cool to experience, didn't care where it came from, and weren't interested in a sociology lesson.

I eventually got over it — after all, not every fan has to follow the same path into their chosen fandom, and it's not like I had the right to make unrealistic demands on the aesthetics of total strangers. But something did stick with me: the idea that when everyone in the room has followed the same path into something, they have the tendency to bring the exact same things into it with them, and maybe also the same things out with them as well.

Don't take this as a slap at fandom. Rather, it's more about insularity, something that fandom has as one of its attributes. Sometimes that's not a bad thing — n automating screening-out of everything that doesn't need to be there is often good for focus. But it's bad in the long run for one's cultural acumen, and even worse when it's combined with just enough intelligence to make you believe you're doing the right thing.

Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop fandom fantasy science fiction