Herd Succumbs to its own Theory


My content on the site has been a little light the last couple weeks – it will pick up soon. I’ve been a lot more active reading, speaking and working the last month and it’s affecting the blog. Though the content is down now, my mind is racing with content for the next few weeks, so be sure to stick with me. If that’s not enough, I’ve closed the final sponsor for the $1,000 Giveaway – Vontoo. We’re working on a pretty cool demo of Vontoo for the post!

21Sf0CG%2BoKL. AA SL16021Sf0CG%2BoKL. AA SL160This week I finished Herd, a book by Mark Earl. I’m not sure I’ve spent more time with a book this year, it’s an incredible read and I’d recommend it to any marketer.

IMHO, Herd may have had a shot of being the most important business book to read this year – except that I think Mark succumbs to some of his own theories and conclusions. Mark is described on the jacket as

One of the world’s foremost communications practitioners and a leading thinker about brands, marketing and consumer behavior.

In reading Mark’s book, I find some evidence that Mark takes a cynical view of organized religion and of right-wing politics. These are two topics that we’re suppose to avoid in business, but Mark’s topic of changing mass behavior could not speak to two topics that are more patterned after the herd. Rather than touching on each in-depth, Mark threw a couple cynical comments in and left it at that. To be honest, I had a hard time digesting the rest of the book because of this. That’s unfortunate – and may point to why I spent so much time with the book. Mark had so much incredible information that I had to force myself to look for the great info and ignore the shots here and there.

The Political Herd

The second conclusion to the book is that Individuals are unreliable (if not largely irrelevant) witnesses. However, in the same chapter that Mark sets this conclusion, he takes a shot at ‘curious George’ and the 2004 election win by George Bush. The electoral college was a brilliant decision devised by this country’s forefathers to ensure that the popular vote didn’t always make a president and speaks to Mark’s concerns about behavior, risks and rewards associated with herd mentality.

If the United States did have a popular election that determined the presidency, 90% of the United States would be left behind while our friends in Washington only paid attention the largest of cities. The electoral college provides a balance that requires our government pay attention to more than just the majority… they have to pay attention to the states. Indeed, the election was won in Florida and Ohio, but without the electoral college, those states would have had no say in the election.

I believe Mark’s book would have been better served if he discussed the balance of the popular vs the representative voting requirements of the United States and how it adds to the “American Dream” by providing everyone with a right to pursue happiness, not just the most populous regions.

The Religious Herd

Another shot I noticed in the book was this one towards the end,

we now know that the earth is like a ball which, far from being the centre of our solar system as the Roman Church once taught…”

Of course the Roman Church taught that! It was the common belief at the time and needed to be disproved. That takes time and when it was, science was rewritten.

Conclusion 4 speaks to being more humble and speaking to the individual. Why did Mark reference the Church in his sentiment? Did it matter that it was the Church? For those people who recognize the value of Churches today and centuries ago, we should all recognize that, through its faults and ignorance, the Church built the foundation of our current schools. As with Churches of yesteryear, in the future we’ll find out that we’re learning things today that are wrong as written by our most intelligent scholars. We should be more humble.

The Environmental Herd

Wrapped up in both Politics and Education is our understanding of the Environment. Mark makes a comment as though it’s a foregone conclusion that the Oil industry is causing harm to the environment. This is subscribing to ‘the Herd’. In fact, there’s a lot of doubt in the science community that this is the case at all.

Taking a side on each of these areas instead of truly studying the science behind how they are impacted is a disservice and needs to be analyzed with as much detail as Mark does with all the other topics in the book. Once again, I found this book invaluable – but I think Mark could have taken a more judicious view on each of these areas and had more of an impact.


  1. 1

    Please keep an open mind when thinking about these three items. All three are politically charged and may result in you deciding to stop reading my blog. I hope not!

    1. I am not a fan of Bush, especially with regard to the erosion of our Constitutional rights. When we lose freedoms like this, it’s my belief that the terrorists have actually had a win.
    2. I’m also not a fan of organized religion – I don’t think you’ll find a single verse in the Bible that calls for huge Churches that cost millions of dollars and sway the political dial. But I do believe that Churches make a huge difference in society. I have seen the difference first-hand, millions of dollars in donations going to communities and people that need them.
    3. I’m not an environmentalist, but I do want to see us stop filling in landfills and depending on other countries for our oil. Assisting the environment helps in those causes, so I tend to lean in that direction.
    • 2

      Very good post, Doug. I find myself not able to listen to some radio/TV talk hosts anymore (both on the right and the left) b/c they simply can’t look at both sides before making a decision. It’s like thought and investigation have taken a backseat to absorption of information and a jump to decisions based on emotions that we have conjured based on our experiences. I think anyone in the public eye, anyone given a public voice, writers, editors, news, all of us, even those that blog, have a responsibility to the public to present more rational arguments and information. I don’t always agree with you, but I always feel that you do this well. Which is why I continue to read. . .

      I am continually reminded lately of something I heard at a very young age, “All things in moderation. . .”


  2. 3

    Doug, cool post. For a more analytic (but not to quantitative) look at a similar phenomenon, without the religious and political barbs, check out “The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki. It was one of the early books on “predictive markets” which not exactly what Herd is getting at, but it is definitely related. The basic premise is you can set up a “market” on, say, the 2008 election and have people “buy” options contracts for who they think will win. If their outcome wins there is some form of compensation. The crowd is smarter than any individual expert or small group and has a stronger predictive power than a poll. There is a study at the Univ. of Iowa that does this for presidential elections and I forget how far back it goes, but I don’t think they’ve missed one yet!

What do you think?

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