Skip to content

Editor's Note: Bellwether

Beginning in the 13th century, a common practice among shepherds was to designate one sheep as the leader. With a bell around his neck, this particular sheep—the bellwether—would walk ahead of the flock. Over the centuries, the term bellwether has shed its pastoral origins and has come to mean a person who leads others either through initiative or by setting trends.

As the centuries unfolded, taking initiative was the first step in becoming a leader. Titans of industry from John D. Rockefeller to Steve Jobs took the reins of leadership and, through force of will, led their companies to greatness.

However, such attitudes about leadership have a dark side, according to Tim Harford, a journalist with The Financial Times and author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. In his TED talk, Harford tells the story of Archie Cochrane, a Scottish researcher and pioneer of randomized controlled trials, whose staunchest foes were doctors. These doctors, according to Cochrane, were limited because of their outlook—termed the God Complex. 

For those with a God Complex, Harford explains, “no matter how complicated the problem, you have an absolutely infallible belief that you are right in your solution.”

These doctors didn’t need randomized trials because they were convinced that they already knew the answers to Cochrane’s questions, Harford adds. And because these doctors were so frequently correct, it seemed logical that they would always be right on every occasion.

Business leaders are especially prone to the God Complex and this a dangerous situation, Harford says, because great things rarely happen simply because “someone very smart is in charge.” To truly be an agent of change in difficult times, leaders must abandon arrogance, “embrace our randomness, and start making better mistakes.”

Making better mistakes, Harford writes in his book, means using trial and error to come up with better solutions. “We will have to make an uncomfortable number of mistakes, and learn from them, rather than cover them up or deny they happened, even to ourselves. This is not the way we are used to getting things done.”

Security experts can’t always fail in the way Harford suggests. The stakes are too high. But they can fail in ways that make the security function even more nimble or personnel more expertly trained. They can also learn more about trends and how they apply to the day-to-day work of security.

This trends issue serves as a companion piece to ASIS 2016 being held in Orlando, Florida, this month. The annual seminar and exhibits provides an excellent venue for challenging your God Complex and learning to fail more quickly and efficiently. Learn from your peers, explore solutions, shift your perspective, and network with experts from across the security spectrum. Don’t be just another sheep. Be a bellwether.