Wisdom, Camels and Soros

You know that cow story that everyone uses to prove that "Wisdom of the Crowds” is a thing? Where everyone guesses the weight of a cow and the crowds average is correct… I think about it a lot.

On the other end of the spectrum there’s another great saying that is “A camel was a horse designed by a committee.” To me, at face value, these are the same inputs creating a different output. It’s the same kind of concept, where individuals have to put information together, and the average of that information is something.

I believe the difference between the two is that a weight is numerical, it is fungible, it is concrete. It is a result that we have a habit of working towards, and we have general experience calculating weight and cost.

However, when committees are coming up with answers to things, they aren’t concrete, everyone has different incentives for their input, normally they have to do with money. And those skewed incentives create poorly designed structures… which is where the saying comes from -

“A camel was a horse designed by a committee.”

For example, when I describe “Space”, its a concept that almost everyone can conceptualize now because it’s well documented and that knowledge has become universal. Yet still if I say the word Space, there is something non-specific about it, visualizing it is so large and opaque that you can’t wrap your head around all the variables. Not only that, the perspectives of different people on Space is so large a range that the concepts are hard to communicate, in some ways unfathomable because so few people have experienced space. If a biologist and a physicist were to discuss “Space,” it would be as if they were speaking different languages.

The gap between these two concepts, I believe, is what George Soros calls “Reflexivity”, its the distance of miss-understanding of what society sees something to be and what it actually is. It also is the earliest principle to wrap your head around for an Open Society. I just read “Soros on Soros” for the first time, and I think it’s a must read, not only as a fund manager, but as someone who is constantly trying to translate the distance between where I hope the world is, and where the world actually is.