“A well-know study out of UC Berkeley by organizational behavior professor Philip Tetlock found that television pundits – that is, people who earn their livings by holding forth confidently on the basis of limited information – make worse predictions about political and economic trends than they would by random chance. And they very worst prognosticators tend to be the most famous and the most confident – the very ones who would be considered natural leaders in an HBS classroom.
The U.S Army has a name for a similar phenomenon: “the Bus to Abiline.” “Any army officer can tell you what that means,” Colonel (Ret.) Stephen J. Gerras, a professor of behavioral sciences at the U.S. Army War College, told Yale Alumni Magazine in 2008. “It’s about a family sitting on a porch in Texas on a hot summer day, and somebody says, “I’m bored. Why don’t we go to Abilene?” When they get to Abilene, somebody says, “You know, I didn’t really want to go.” And the next person says, “I didn’t want to go – I thought you wanted to go.” and so on. Whenever you’re in an army group and somebody says, “I think we’re all getting on the bus to Abilene here,” that is a red flag. You can stop a conversation with it. It is a very powerful artifact of our culture.”
The “Bus to Abilene” anecdote reveals our tendency to follow those who initiate action – any action. We are similarly inclined to empower dynamic speakers. One highly successful venture capitalist who is regularly pitched by young entrepreneurs told me how frustrated he is by his colleagues’ failure to distinguish between good presentation skills and true leadership ability. “I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they’re good talkers, but they don’t have good ideas,” he said. “It’s so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent. Someone seems like a good presenter, easy to get along with, and those traits are rewarded. Well, why is that? They’re valuable traits, but we put too much of a premium on presenting and not enough on substance and critical thinking.”
From Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain