Scott E. Page

Professor, University of Michigan
External Faculty, Santa Fe Institute
Author of Diversity and Complexity and The Difference

Expert on improving collective performance and decision making through diversity.

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Biography

2013 Guggenheim Fellow

Scott Page researches how diversity improves performance and decision making, when ‘diversity’ means not what we look like on the outside, rather than what we look like within—the tools and abilities that make each of us unique. Scott’s key insight:

Groups made up of intelligent people who are inwardly diverse — that is, who have different perspectives, mindsets and ways of solving problems — can make more accurate predictions and solve problems more effectively than groups of 'experts.'

He is the author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, about how we think in groups and why collective wisdom works.

Scott’s new book, Diversity and Complexity provides an introduction to the role of diversity in complex adaptive systems. He explains how diversity underpins system level robustness, allowing for multiple responses to external shocks and internal adaptations.

"Scott Page has performed a remarkable work of synthesis. The concepts of diversity and its implications for performance and growth are common to many fields, especially biology and economics. Page has drawn these illustrations together and shown the common elements and how each field illuminates others."
— Kenneth J. Arrow, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics

"Scott Page effectively illustrates the multiplicity of results from diverse aspects of complex systems. While all too many social scientists have tried to focus on making analysis simple, Page points out that this overlooks the great variety of relevant material in our social worlds. I am looking forward to having my students read it in my graduate seminar and encourage others to do so as well."
— Elinor Ostrom, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics

"Page engagingly seduces readers into rather deep ideas in complex systems, including sophisticated mathematical formulas, by using a relaxed style with lots of examples. Yet the treatment is rigorous."
— Simon A. Levin, Princeton University

Scott also studies complex systems. He is the author of Complex Adaptive Systems and is on the external faculty of the Santa Fe Institute, the world-renowned research center dedicated to using complexity science to solve human problems.

Scott Page is director of the Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan where he serves as Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex Systems, Economics, and Political Science. This spring he will be featured in a special video by The Teaching Company on the Art of Teaching as one of America's great teachers.

He consults with corporations and nonprofits on market performance and organizational performance.

He is currently teaching two online courses, Understanding Complexity and The Hidden Factor: Why Thinking Differently Is Your Greatest Asset.

Eclectic Research
A popular teacher and speaker, Scott studies how social, political and economic systems work. He has published articles on an unusually wide range of topics, from public good provision, electoral competition, segregation, and city formation to culture, standing ovations, chain stores, exurban sprawl, and the benefits of diversity.

Credentials

  • 2013 Guggenheim Fellow
  • Professor of complex systems, political science and economics, University of Michigan
  • Author, Diversity and Complexity, The Difference and Complex Adaptive Systems
  • External faculty member, Santa Fe Institute
  • Senior research scientist, Institute for Social Research, U of Michigan
  • Director, Center for the Study of Complex Systems, U of Michigan
  • Fellow, Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Sciences

Books

Diversity and Complexity

Primers in Complex Systems

Scott E. Page

This book provides an introduction to the role of diversity in complex adaptive systems. A complex system — such as an economy or a tropical ecosystem — consists of interacting adaptive entities that produce dynamic patterns and structures. Diversity plays a different role in a complex system than it does in an equilibrium system, where it often merely produces variation around the mean for performance measures. In complex adaptive systems, diversity makes fundamental contributions to system performance.

Scott Page gives a concise primer on how diversity happens, how it is maintained, and how it affects complex systems. He explains how diversity underpins system level robustness, allowing for multiple responses to external shocks and internal adaptations; how it provides the seeds for large events by creating outliers that fuel tipping points; and how it drives novelty and innovation. Page looks at the different kinds of diversity — variations within and across types, and distinct community compositions and interaction structures — and covers the evolution of diversity within complex systems and the factors that determine the amount of maintained diversity within a system.

  • Provides a concise and accessible introduction.
  • Shows how diversity underpins robustness and fuels tipping points.
  • Covers all types of diversity.
  • The essential primer on diversity in complex adaptive systems.

Princeton University Press (November 23, 2010)

Praise

"Scott Page effectively illustrates the multiplicity of results from diverse aspects of complex systems. While all too many social scientists have tried to focus on making analysis simple, Page points out that this overlooks the great variety of relevant material in our social worlds. I am looking forward to having my students read it in my graduate seminar and encourage others to do so as well."
— Elinor Ostrom, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics

"At once clear and precise, Page not only makes a persuasive case for the advantages of diversity in biological, ecological, and social systems alike, but also provides the reader with the analytical tools necessary to engage real-world debates in a rational, even quantitative manner. The result is a valuable primer on a difficult and important subject."
— Duncan J. Watts, author of Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness

"Scott Page has performed a remarkable work of synthesis. The concepts of diversity and its implications for performance and growth are common to many fields, especially biology and economics. Page has drawn these illustrations together and shown the common elements and how each field illuminates others."
— Kenneth J. Arrow, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics

"Page engagingly seduces readers into rather deep ideas in complex systems, including sophisticated mathematical formulas, by using a relaxed style with lots of examples. Yet the treatment is rigorous."
— Simon A. Levin, Princeton University

"One of the book's many strengths is that it draws upon insights from seemingly disconnected areas of research and shows how they can be viewed within a common framework. Page's style is lively and conversational, making challenging subject matter quite readable, but without any sacrifice of rigor. He manages to convey both the excitement and difficulty of analyzing complex systems and the role of diversity within them."
— Rajiv Sethi, Barnard College, Columbia University

The Difference

How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies

Scott E. Page

In this landmark book, Scott Page redefines the way we understand ourselves in relation to one another. The Difference is about how we think in groups — and how our collective wisdom exceeds the sum of its parts. Why can teams of people find better solutions than brilliant individuals working alone? And why are the best group decisions and predictions those that draw upon the very qualities that make each of us unique? The answers lie in diversity — not what we look like outside, but what we look like within, our distinct tools and abilities.

The Difference reveals that progress and innovation may depend less on lone thinkers with enormous IQs than on diverse people working together and capitalizing on their individuality. Page shows how groups that display a range of perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts. Diversity yields superior outcomes, and Page proves it using his own cutting-edge research. Moving beyond the politics that cloud standard debates about diversity, he explains why difference beats out homogeneity, whether you're talking about citizens in a democracy or scientists in the laboratory. He examines practical ways to apply diversity's logic to a host of problems, and along the way offers fascinating and surprising examples, from the redesign of the Chicago "El" to the truth about where we store our ketchup.

Page changes the way we understand diversity — how to harness its untapped potential, how to understand and avoid its traps, and how we can leverage our differences for the benefit of all.

Princeton University Press (January 15, 2007)

Complex Adaptive Systems

An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life (Princeton Studies in Complexity)

Scott Page and John H. Miller

This book provides the first clear, comprehensive, and accessible account of complex adaptive social systems, by two of the field's leading authorities. Such systems — whether political parties, stock markets, or ant colonies — present some of the most intriguing theoretical and practical challenges confronting the social sciences. Engagingly written, and balancing technical detail with intuitive explanations, Complex Adaptive Systems focuses on the key tools and ideas that have emerged in the field since the mid-1990s, as well as the techniques needed to investigate such systems. It provides a detailed introduction to concepts such as emergence, self-organized criticality, automata, networks, diversity, adaptation, and feedback. It also demonstrates how complex adaptive systems can be explored using methods ranging from mathematics to computational models of adaptive agents.

John Miller and Scott Page show how to combine ideas from economics, political science, biology, physics, and computer science to illuminate topics in organization, adaptation, decentralization, and robustness. They also demonstrate how the usual extremes used in modeling can be fruitfully transcended.

Princeton University Press; illustrated edition edition (March 5, 2007)

Topics

Scott tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

Model Thinking: One to Many & Many to One

Each new model that a person masters becomes a tool that can be applied in many contexts. For example, a model of negative feedbacks can help us both understand and design thermostats, markets, and braking systems. By definition, models simplify — they isolate and highlight the important parts of a system. But the world in which we now live has become complex, and no one simple model can capture all of the important parts. The intelligent response to that complexity lies not in making our models ever more complex, but in applying ensembles of models. We should strive to become many model thinkers.

Leveraging Diversity

Why can teams of people find better solutions than brilliant individuals working alone? And why are the best group decisions and predictions those that draw upon the very qualities that make each of us unique? The answers lie in diversity—not what we look like outside, but what we look like within, our distinct tools and abilities. In this lecture, Scott Page explains how to use diversity to improve an organization’s predictions, decisions and problem-solving capabilities.

Moving beyond the politics that cloud standard debates about diversity, Scott discusses why difference beats out homogeneity, whether you're talking about citizens in a democracy or scientists in the laboratory, and why diversity trumps ability. He examines practical ways to apply diversity's logic to a host of problems, and along the way offers surprising examples, from the redesign of the Chicago "El" to the truth about where we store our ketchup.

The talk links to smart mobs, wise crowds, identity diversity, globalization, and interdisciplinary science. The same logic that shows how cognitive diversity improves the performance of a predictive market can show how including identity diverse — and experientially and vocationally diverse — people improves the performance of a problem-solving team.

Videos

Leveraging Diversity

Boeing Summit

Feedback

A non-profit association serving medical schools:
Scott was an absolute home run — I thought he was fantastic — he presented very interesting information without being too academic. He geared his talk perfectly to the audience and was both informative and entertaining, which is a very difficult balance.

A financial division of a Fortune 50 company:
Scott's delivery was educational and entertaining and we have had great feedback from his presentation. His personal style engaged the entire audience and the detailed manner in which he presented his views really hit home with our “financial types”. He was truly a good fit for our entire population.

A property and casualty insurance group:
Scott — Thank you very much for your presentation today! We issued a survey to gather formal feedback however the initial responses have been very positive. Here’s what one employee had to say:

"Today’s presentation was excellent. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to making us better people."

We really enjoyed your sense of humor and ability to drive home your points with relevant examples.

An investment firm:
Comments include:

  • Scott Page was great. He's an outstanding presenter, and took a much needed structured approach to a typically fluffy topic, and made it incredibly interesting.
  • I really enjoyed the presentation by Scott Page. Both informative and helpful to challenge norms/stereotypes vis-à-vis our jobs.
  • The Page session on diversity was great because it was about decision making in a team context, thus very relevant to how we work.
  • This presentation was refreshing and thought provoking. Both literal and analytical benefits of diversity are extremely compelling.

A foundation for MBA graduate-level individuals committed to a career in finance:
Scott — I wanted to personally thank you for your participation in the [...] Foundation Gala. You were a huge hit! Folks I've spoken with, including my Board, were dazzled by your presentation. I'm so pleased it worked out to integrate your work into our message on diversity and leadership.

An insurance company:
I thought he was just terrific. He was entertaining, got to the point quickly, was interesting and his slides were stimulating.

From all the feedback I received, he was great. He was provocative, well-spoken and funny when he needed to be. He was great.