When I Don’t Know that You Don’t Know What I Know: Hidden Profiles and Expert Information

When I Don't Know that You Don't Know What I KnowI’ve been reading Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days. One of the key Monday activities is gathering information from expert stakeholders whose perspective may influence the solution. The authors suggest encouraging these experts to provide a complete overview of their take on the problem to be solved, even urging them to “remind us about” to make sure they are comfortable covering familiar ground. The process reminded me of a line of psychological research about the “hidden profile” and how it influences group decision-making.

The “hidden profile” refers to information that one person in a group has but other people don’t (Stasser & Titus, 1985). Research on hidden profiles suggests that people often don’t realize what part of their own knowledge is unique, and so they may not share the right subset of information. This is especially likely to happen if the group thinks they have all of the information they need to solve a problem (Stasser & Stewart, 1992). In fact, groups where there are hidden profiles are eight times less likely to arrive at the “right” decision than groups where all of the information is shared (Lu, Yuan, and McLeod, 2012). An important step, therefore, for optimizing the output of group decision-making is to surface all of the hidden profiles to the full team.

Sprint offers some good tactics for getting at these hidden profiles on the Monday of your five day sprint:

Position the experts as experts. Part of why hidden profiles exist is because we don’t usually know that other people don’t know what we know. Our own information feels comfortable and obvious, so we don’t know to expose it to someone else. If we are told that we have a special expertise, we may be more likely to state the (to us) obvious.

Encourage sharing of information even if it might be repetitive. The hidden profile information is not necessarily a game-changing revelation. It may come in a detail about how a process or product works. It may be buried in a bigger story. When the hidden profile is a subtle nuance, you may need to re-cover already traveled ground to discover it.

Invite a full audience to hear the information. When the full team listens to the experts talk, it’s more likely that someone will pick up on the critical hidden profile information.

How do you make sure you’ve gotten the critical information from the experts in your life?


Lu, L., Yuan, Y. C., and McLeod, P. L. (2012). Twenty-five years of hidden profiles in group decision making: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 16(1), 54-75.

Stasser, G., & Stewart, D. (1992). Discovery of hidden profiles by decision-making groups: Solving a problem versus making a judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(3), 426-434.

Stasser, G., & Titus, W. (1985). Pooling of unshared information in group decision making: Biased information sampling during group discussion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 1467-1478.