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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why the 49ers Need to Keep Both Baalke and Harbaugh

Legal scholar Cass Sunstein has written extensively about a phenomenon that he calls the law of group polarization (Sunstein 2003:111–144). It “predicts that when like-minded people deliberate as an organized group, the general opinion shifts toward extreme versions of their common beliefs. In a product-liability trial, for instance, if nine jurors believe the manufacturer is somewhat guilty and three believe it is entirely guilty, the latter will draw the former toward a larger award than the nine would allow on their own. Or, if people who object in varying degrees to the war in Iraq convene to debate methods of protest, all will emerge from the discussion more resolved against the war” (Bauerlein 2004:B8). Why? Because there's a lack of dissent in the group. Dissent highlights alternative view points, which in turn tend to moderate the collective opinion of a group.

Not surprisingly, Sunstein has focused primarily interested in how this phenomenon plays itself out in juries, but what is perhaps more interesting is how it can be found at work in a number of surprising settings. Sunstein, for example, notes that social investment clubs (i.e., groups of private individuals who pool and invest their money) that argue, disagree, and so on generally outperform groups do not (i.e., groups that get along). Group contentiousness may not always be pleasant, but it allows a variety of perspectives to be aired, which in the end leads to better investment decisions.

Which brings us to why the 49ers need to keep both General Manager Trent Baalke and Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. The tension that apparently exists between them may not always be that fun to be around, but over the last three years, together they have resurrected the 49er franchise. I seriously doubt that the tension between them is recent, which suggests that one of the reasons why they have been so successful is because their arguing has, in the end, led to some very wise decisions. This is not to suggest that every draft pick has panned out or that every experiment has worked. But, overall, Baalke and Harbaugh work well together, even if they don't get along, which is why owner Jed York needs to do all he can to keep them both.

  • Bauerlein, Mark. "Liberal Groupthink is Anti-Intellectual." The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 12 2004, B6-B10.
  • Sunstein, Cass R. 2003. Why Societies Need Dissent. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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