Committees & Companies

Joseph Reagle

Committees, juries, teams

Caveat: Hindsight bias

Sees past events as being more predictable than they were.

How many similar issues arise at NASA for which nothing bad happens?

Small groups?


  • can act quickly
  • synergy and swing

Common limitations?

  • more prone to direct influence from one another
  • fewer resources

Confirmation bias

“Twelve Angry Men”

What difference would…

Evidence vs verdict based juries have?

Cognitive diversity

Stasser’s experiment showed people talk about what they know in common, rather than what was rare/valuable.


Solomon Asch people erred in estimating the length of a line less the 1% the time when alone, but when influenced by group pressure they erred 36.8% of the time (Sunstein 2003, pp. 18-19)


  1. proportion of arguments/limited argument pool: a group whose members are already inclined in a certain direction will offer a disproportionately large number of arguments supporting that same direction, exaggerating initial inclinations (Sunstein 2001, sec. 4)
  2. social comparison: people want to be favorably perceived by others, and so shift their views to what they perceive others’ to be (Sunstein 2001, sec. 4)


Even so…

Small groups can actually perform better than their best members.


You’ve been appointed to a small committee intended to look into a problem.

What six ground rules would you recommend?

The company

Gangster models

No ideal solution

Coase and transaction costs

Firms emerge when external TC > internal TC (e.g., search, contracting, and coordinating)

How might feedback relate to Coase?

  • You are more likely to get accurate feedback at the boundary.

Paradox of inclusion

Problems of hierarchy

Why couldn’t the customers take it right to the software people?

targets → lowballing & deceit

“Goldbricking in the machine shop.”

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. – Marilyn

decentralization → ownership & coordination