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Rich and Co.

Sources of Group Intelligence in Decision Making

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These kinds of results are coming from different researchers.

So how do you engineer groups that can problem-solve effectively?

First of all, seed them with, basically, caring people.  Group intelligence is correlated, Malone and his colleagues found, with the average social sensitivity — the openness, and receptiveness, to others — of a group’s constituents.

The Smart Group
First is the question of whether general cognitive ability — what we think of, when it comes to individuals, as “intelligence” — actually exists for groups. (Spoiler: it does.) …And what they found is telling:

  • “The average intelligence of the people in the group and the maximum intelligence of the people in the group doesn’t predict group intelligence
  • Which is to say: “Just getting a lot of smart people in a group does not necessarily make a smart group.”
  • Furthermore, the researchers found, group intelligence is also only moderately correlated with qualities you’d think would be pretty crucial when it comes to group dynamics — things like group cohesion, satisfaction, “psychological safety,” and motivation.

It’s not just that a happy group or a close-knit group or an enthusiastic group doesn’t necessarily equal a smart group; it’s also that those psychological elements have only some effect on groups’ ability to solve problems together.
The emotional intelligence of group members, in other words, serves the cognitive intelligence of the group overall. And this means that — wait for it — groups with more women tend to be smarter than groups with more men. (As Malone put it: “More females, more intelligence.”) That’s largely mediated by the researchers’ social sensitivity findings: Women tend to be more socially sensitive than men — per Science! — which means that, overall, more women = more emotional intelligence = more group intelligence.

Those experiments are based, in turn, on a basic insight: that the “who” of groups matters as much as the “how.” Attention to the makeup of groups of on a more granular, person-to-person level may extend the benefits even further.

The Group Genome
The researchers break the “genes” of groups down to interactions among four basic (and familiar) categories: what, who, why, and how. Or, put another way:

  • what the project is,
  • who’s working to enact it,
  •  why they’re working to enact it, and
  • what methods they’re using to enact it.

That all seems simple and obvious — because it is — but what makes the approach so interesting and valuable from the future-of-news perspective is, among other things, its disaggregation of project and method and intention.  Groups form for all kinds of reasons, but we generally pay little attention to the discrete factors that lead them to form and flourish. Just as understanding humans’ genetic code can lead us to a molecular understanding of ourselves as individuals, mapping the genome of groups may help us understand ourselves as we behave within a broader collective. Group intelligence, though, Malone’s findings suggest, can be manipulated — and so, if you understand what makes groups smart, you can adjust their factors to make them even smarter. The age-old question in sociology is whether groups are somehow different, and greater, than the sum of their parts. And the answer, based on Malone’s and other findings, seems to be “yes.” The trick now is figuring out why that’s so, and how that mechanics of the collective may be put to productive use. Measuring group intelligence, in other words, is the first step in increasing group intelligence.

Do groups have genetic structures? If so, can they be modified?

Those are two central questions for Thomas Malone, a professor of management and an expert in organizational structure and group intelligence at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. In a talk this week at IBM’s Center for Social Software, Malone explained the insights he’s gained through his research and as the director of theMIT Center for Collective Intelligence, which he launched in 2006 in part to determine how collective intelligence might be harnessed to tackle problems — climate change, poverty, crime — that are generally too complex to be solved by any one expert or group. In his talk, Malone discussed the “genetic” makeup of collective intelligence, teasing out the design differences between, as he put it, “individuals, collectively, and a collective of individuals.”

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Written by Rich and Co.

May 4, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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