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The Hidden Factor: Why Thinking Differently Is Your Greatest Asset

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 a pioneering researcher in his field.
The Hidden Factor: Why Thinking Differently Is Your Greatest Asset is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 25.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Mathematical Approach to Solving Any Tough Probl This is an excellent although challenging course on the effect of cognitive diversity. I was expecting a pop science rah-rah course on being nice to people who are different from you but it turned out to be a rigorous and mathematical course. As a result, this was a really impressive course. Although Dr. Page strives to make it generally accessible, it really helps to have college-level probability and statistics courses under your belt to see what he is saying. Dr. Page starts by examining the benefits of cognitive diversity (i.e., different ways of thinking) in teams. He shows mathematically that sometimes it is not best for the team to select the smartest people to be on that team. He then focuses on the processes of problem solving showing how to use this cognitive diversity to improve these processes. Dr. Page works hard to be interesting and fun. He goes out of his way to provide examples that are both intriguing and illuminating. On the other hand, there are times when he walks through mathematical proofs hoping to illuminate the truth he is presenting. The course guide is average by The Great Courses (TGC) standards. It is written in paragraph format even though each paragraph is set off by a bullet. It contains the important proofs discussed in the lectures. It averages about 7 pages per lecture, which is about average by TGC standards. The appendix includes a glossary and a bibliography. This course is available only in video format. The graphics are important to understanding the material. One can listen in audio-only mode such as while exercising or commuting, but this would result in loss of material. The course was published in 2012.
Date published: 2024-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses out there Forget online vs in person vs whatever, the intellectual content in this course is better than 99% of the undergraduate and graduate courses I took at Penn State, NYU, and Rutgers. Professor Page is one of my academic HEROES! This is a course I will go back to again and again for inspiration and learning.
Date published: 2023-08-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Lost all credibility with Lecture 3 The equation showing diversity makes all the difference between individual guesses and the crowd average guess leaves out one important fact: randomness and the Bell Curve of responses. You can't credit diversity with all the gains in the crowd average.
Date published: 2022-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Illuminating The course is not what one would expect based on the title. It's much better. This course provides a much deeper and more illuminating understanding of the value of thinking differently than any simplistic treatment could. It is really about diversity, systems, productivity, and innovation. It goes far beyond the tired checklists of how to think outside-the-box or why to "tolerate" diversity. It takes careful listening, but it's worth it.
Date published: 2021-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Massively Applicable to Organizations and Politics Of the few reviews available, many have some truth to them. Klaatu’s review brings out the sore need for this information to reach the cocoons of large non-diverse organizations, especially colleges. PROS: 1. Page is an excellent teacher overall. He DOES start out slowly, as others have noted BUT there is so much jargon, he needs to. By mid-course, he started putting things together. This is why so many reviewers emphasize that you need to FINISH this course. 2. By explaining many complicated sounding “theorems” & “heuristics”, much of their mystery is taken away. Sigma Six, in simple terms, is just writing down what must be done, often as a checklist (“a technique that’s recently gained traction”). 15 years ago over a weekend, I stopped people from frantically running up and down the halls at a military clinic by taping individualized checklists on their computer screens (complete with subroutines for problems). On Monday morning the halls were quiet for the patients (no Sigma Six costs entailed). Supervision requires thinking out people’s jobs for them and that’s where this course is very successful. 3. In L21-24 Page shines. He takes on topics like the destructiveness of homophily, incentives and groupthink. He deals with the collapse of societies, with administrative functions that suck energy from the system, hints at the destructiveness of media groupthink, makes clear the dangers of societal peer pressure conformity and drift; clearly states how preference diversity creates painful cycles that can end in dictatorship, and talks about the various strategies of voter manipulation. This is not done from a “left or right” perspective but is based on what the course has taught. CONS: 1. My only problem with Dr. Page’s teaching was the premise of L4’s "diversity prediction theorem”. Here he noted that if A shoots an arrow 4 inches below a target and B shoots the arrow 4 inches above, “the net error would be zero”. Then he said the error MUST be squared “because squaring the errors makes all errors positive and prevents them from canceling each other". Squaring the errors ALSO results in a massive magnification of the actual error vs simply taking the errors as ABSOLUTE VALUES (which also prevent error cancellation). Worse, Page picked numbers so that the average crowd's error was 1. 1 squared is conveniently 1, so of course the crowd ended up doing much better than individual errors squared. A careful review of the rest of the course shows the “diversity prediction theorem” of crowd wisdom is not a really a mathematical certainty but is conditional. Only in L12 do we get to the 4 conditions required for diversity to trump ability. L22 provides other conditionals that affect crowd wisdom. 2. Vanity is apparently core to business school (not Page’s fault). Examples: (a.) A nephew business major asked me to help him with homework involving what turns out to be the "Quinn & Cameron’s 4-box model" for organizational assessment (L7). The idea seemed so simple that its existence can only be justified by Page's assertion that chimps given a 3 button random choice selection were superior to college student organizational choices. My wife reminds that life is a learning process. (b.) In L12 the #2 condition for diversity to trump ability is that diverse people have to be smart. Here we learn that this is labeled the “calculus condition” because of their ability to locate peaks on their “dancing landscapes” Why? In calculus “You can take derivatives and find points with 0 slope which includes all of the peaks. But, 0 slope also defines all of the troughs, ie not-smart people. Vanity, oh vanity. (c.) By L19, covariance between 2 investments is used to measure their acting dependently or independently. Negative covariance means the investments move oppositely providing stability. But next we define the "BETA between b and a as the ratio of the covariance of a and b to the variance of a”. Logically, if you buy an investment with a negative beta, you started with a negative covariance. But the redundant "BETA" is a much more mystical "heuristic" (ie: tool, so why not say tool?) in the hands of a financial manager. (d.) Then there is “Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety”: for every problem, business needs an answer. Soooo…when one company takes over another, the new inherit all the old one’s disturbances. The "Law" says that “Harley Davidson...should not buy a grocery store chain" because: "Harley's "core competencies probably don’t include responses …to food spoilage." Core competency is easily understood. “Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety" is merely a vainglorious restatement. Kudos to Page. This is indeed a Great Course and if more people understood it, we’d have fewer riots in our streets. This course was a gift from a friend.
Date published: 2020-06-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Title didn't match the content This was terrible. I sent it back in the middle of the sixth lecture.
Date published: 2020-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting Interesting interplay between diversity vs specialization relating to the evolution of technology.
Date published: 2019-10-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from My Review for The Hidden Factor: Why Thinking Diff IT WAS GOOD I ENJOYED IT WHEN I READ IT AWHILE AGO
Date published: 2019-10-10
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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. Diverse perspectives are a powerful tool for maximizing productivity and enhancing collective performance. Now, in The Hidden Factor: Why Thinking Differently Is Your Greatest Asset, you can 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.


Scott E. Page

Our identities can be a key driver of cognitive diversity on many tasks. Who we are directly influences our experiences and also correlates with the information and training we acquire.


University of Michigan

Professor Scott E. Page received a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Michigan and an M.A. in Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He then received his M.S. in Business and his Ph.D. in Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He completed his Ph.D. thesis under the guidance of Stan Reiter and Nobel laureate Roger Myerson. He has been a Professor of Economics at the California Institute of Technology and The University of Iowa and is currently Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan. At Michigan, he is also a Senior Research Scientist at the Institute for Social Research, a Senior Fellow in the Society of Fellows, and the Director of the Center for the Study of Complex Systems. In addition, Professor Page has been a long-time External Professor for the Santa Fe Institute, an interdisciplinary think tank devoted to the study of complexity. In 2011, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Professor Page has won outstanding teaching assistant awards at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Northwestern University, the Faculty Teaching Award at Caltech, and the Faculty Achievement Award for outstanding research, teaching, and service at the University of Michigan. Professor Page’s research interests span a wide range of disciplines. He has published more than 60 papers in a variety of fields, including economics, political science, computer science, physics, geography, public health, business, philosophy, and complexity. In addition, he has served on dissertation committees for students in more than 10 departments. In recent years, his core interest has been the various roles of diversity in complex adaptive systems, such as economies and ecosystems. He is the author of Diversity and Complexity; Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life (with John H. Miller); and The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies . All three books were published by Princeton University Press. His most recent book, The Model Thinker: What You Need to Know to Make Data Work for You, provides a toolkit for people to be able to leverage data and information to their advantage. A popular speaker, Professor Page has appeared at the Aspen Ideas Festival and the World Economic Forum and before numerous corporate and nonprofit audiences around the world, including Google, Ford, Genentech, the International Monetary Fund, and the Association of American Medical Colleges. He has also recorded Understanding Complexity with The Great Courses. Professor Page lives with his wife and two sons in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

By This Professor

The Hidden Factor: Why Thinking Differently Is Your Greatest Asset
Understanding Complexity
The Hidden Factor: Why Thinking Differently Is Your Greatest Asset


Individual Diversity and Collective Performance

01: 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....

30 min
Why Now? The Rise of Diversity

02: 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....

30 min
Diversity Squared

03: 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."...

29 min
The Wisdom of Crowds

04: 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....

31 min
The Diversity Prediction Theorem Times Three

05: 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....

29 min
The Weighting Is the Hardest Part

06: 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....

29 min
Foxes and Hedgehogs-Can I Be Diverse?

07: 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....

28 min
Fermi's Barbers-Estimating and Predicting

08: 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....

32 min
Problem Solving

09: 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....

29 min
Diverse Perspectives

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....

30 min
Heuristics and the Adjacent Possible

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....

31 min
Diversity Trumps Ability

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....

27 min
Digging Holes and Splicing Genes

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....

30 min
Ability and Diversity

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....

30 min
Combining and Recombining Heuristics

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?...

28 min
Beware of False Prophets-No Free Lunch

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....

30 min
Crowdsourcing and the Limits of Diversity

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....

31 min
Experimentation, Variation, and Six Sigma

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....

30 min
Diversity and Robustness

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....

30 min
Inescapable Benefits of Diversity

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....

34 min
The Historical Value of Diversity

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....

30 min
Homophily, Incentives, and Groupthink

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....

31 min
The Problem of Diverse Preferences

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....

30 min
The Team. The Team. The Team.

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....

30 min