Collaborate with yourself

A recent article* in Psychological Science describes a technique you can use to benefit from group genius within your own mind–basically, a way to get two different perspectives from yourself that will make your final decision a better one.

Authors Stefan Herzog and Ralph Hertwig call this technique dialectical bootstrapping.  It’s based on the discovery that when two or more people make estimates of the answer to an unknown problem, the average of their guesses is almost always more accurate than any one person’s guess.  (This discovery is at the root of Surowiecki’s 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds.)  So wouldn’t it be great if you could create a “group” inside your own mind?

If you just guess answers over and over, they’ll be pretty similar to each other.  After all, why would you guess anything differently the second time?  So the technique is designed to make yourself guess the second time, almost as if you were a different person.  Here are the instructions they gave:

First, assume that your first estimate is off the mark. Second, think about a few reasons why that could be. Which assumptions and considerations could have been wrong? Third, what do these new considerations imply? Was the first estimate rather too high or too low? Fourth, based on this new perspective, make a second, alternative estimate.

They compared people who were given this instruction with people who were simply told to make a second guess.

Then, for both sets of people, their two guesses were averaged. They were also averaged with each other.  Sure enough, when two different peoples’ guesses were averaged, the increase in the accuracy of the guess was almost 8%.  And when people just guessed twice, the accuracy of the average was not any better than either single guess.  But for the people who got the instructions for dialectical bootstrapping, the average of their two guesses was 4% more accurate than either guess.

In other words, working alone these people got almost half of the benefit of working with another person!

* Herzog and Hertwig, “The wisdom of many in one mind,” Psychological Science, Volume 20, Number 2 (February 2009).