Let's be successful? Sure, let's. But it has nothing to do with non-conformity.

Let's be successful through cooperation, which conformity is an ingredient of.

For people to cooperate, they have to agree on the project they cooperate on, and also agree on the general strategy to accomplish this project. With perfect Bayesian reasoners, the agreement would be achieved by Aumann's Theorem. With humans, certain doze of conformity is required to overcome the remaining differences in opinion remaining after people have already updated on each other's opinions.

If you can't do this last step, you get Mensa. Nothing ever gets done, because everyone has a different opinion, and everyone feels it would be low-status to accept someone else's solution when it is obviously imperfect (therefore it wouldn't be accepted on basis of pure logic).

As an example, a few years ago, when I had much more free time, I was active in two societies: Mensa, and a local Esperanto group.

In the Esperanto group, as a team of five or ten people we succeeded to publish a new textbook, a multi-media CD (containing books, songs, and computer programs in E-o) and later a larger DVD edition (with added E-o courses, and an offline version of E-o Wikipedia), and created a website containing a wiki and a forum; all this within two years. (Later I decided that E-o isn't my high priority anymore, so I quit the team. As far as I know, the remaining members now use their skills for some commercial projects related to learning languages other than E-o, plus organize international E-o meetups.)

During the same time in Mensa... generally, whenever I suggested anything, it was almost certainly rejected; and even when by miracle people finally agreed about something, when we looked at the details, the same pattern repeated on the lower level. It was a fractal of nitpicking. At the end, nothing got done. We succeeded to agree that we ought to change our web forum, because it had no moderation and was dominated by a few prolific crackpots (who weren't even our members). But during two years we were unable to agree on which software solution to use, and what specific rules should the new forum have.

I spent about the same amount of energy in both groups, and the difference in outcome was staggering. This is how I learned that productivity is a two-place word: how much I am productive is a function of both my personal traits and the traits of the environment I am trying to work in. When you have people who second-guess everything but contribute nothing, the output is close to zero. When you have people who can go along with your crazy experiments, some of those experiements succeed, and a few of them will be really impressive. (But going along with something that you have a different opinion about, that's conformity.)

When programming, you have the option to do the whole thing yourself, and then you don't need to cooperate with anyone. But even that applies to specific kinds of projects, where you can become an expert at every relevant aspect. (For example, if you make a computer game, it is unlikely for the same person to be great at coding and graphics and music and level design and balancing multiplayer.) But when you look at the real world, you have basically two options: either cooperate with non-nerds, or find nerds who are able to cooperate.

My first thought is that it's easier to get things done in an Esperanto group because the goal-- spread Esperanto-- is more obvious than what a Mensa group should do, but perhaps I'm underestimating how much is obvious for a Mensa group to do.

I was a member of Mensa for a while, but was underwhelmed by the intellectual quality. I know a couple of very smart people who are or were in Mensa, but they weren't local to me. I've been told that there's a lot of variation between local groups.

There's a pattern I saw in local Mensa publications that I now have fil... (read more)

0Lumifer4yUm, this is getting complicated :-) First, terminology. By "conformity" I mean matching the social expectations. If your tribe expects people like you to dance naked under a full moon, you dance naked under a full moon. If your tribe expects people like you to catch and burn witches, you catch and burn witches. That's conformity. As an aside, conformity is NOT "having social skills" and non-conformity is NOT "lacking social skills". These are rather different things. Second, success. Speaking crudely, there are people who Get Shit Done and there are people who don't. People who don't, as you point out, talk and critique and nitpick and delay and form committees and find reasons why that's impossible, etc. etc. (see Mensa). Basically whether you successfully Get Shit Done depends on your executive function and on the incentives. For a given person the executive function is fairly stable and the incentives, of course, vary a lot in each situation. Notably, people who Get Shit Done are often more non-conformist because they can afford to. They are valuable to their group/organisation/tribe and that gives them the freedom to ignore (within limits) the social expectations. Those who are not as capable are more conformist because they are less valuable, more fungible, and so more in need of maintaining high social approval of themselves. Third, cooperation. I don't think that cooperation is a function of conformity, outside of extreme cases. Or, rather, let me put it this way: people who Get Shit Done tend to cooperate with those who can provide what they need. They don't care much about social expectations because they care about Getting Shit Done and the conformity is rather peripheral to that. On the other hand people who play social power games do care about conformity because conformity is a major dimension in these social power games.

Open thread, Apr. 18 - Apr. 24, 2016

by MrMind 1 min read18th Apr 2016176 comments


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