The best baseball players don’t always get elected All-Stars. And the Nobel Prize doesn’t always go to the most deserving member of the scientific community. This, according to a pair of recent studies, is because such recognition can depend upon how well known an individual is rather than on merit alone. Moreover, because it’s human nature for people to try to find common ground when talking to others, simple everyday conversations could have the unfortunate side effect of blocking many of the best and most innovative ideas from the collective social consciousness.
“In our research, we found that people are most likely to talk about things they think they have in common with others, rather than topics or ideas that are more unusual or striking,” said Nathanael J. Fast, a PhD student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Fast is one of three authors of the paper “Common Ground and Cultural Prominence: How Conversation Reinforces Culture,” with Chip Heath of the Stanford Business School, and George Wu of the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. “This has the effect of reinforcing—or even institutionalizing—the prominence of familiar cultural elements over ones that are perhaps more deserving.”