Monday, December 20, 2010

Collective Intelligence, Successful Teams, and the Female Factor

Does collective intelligence exist?

This was the question that a group of researchers from MIT and Carnegie Mellon set out to answer and the results of their study have been published in the article, "Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups," in the October 29, 2010 volume of Science.

Clearly, the "design" of groups and teams has implications not only for management and a spectrum of organizations but also for engineering and even military operations (and I would even add educational institutions, including universities).

I came upon a reference to this study in yesterday's Boston Globe, in an article written by Carolyn Y. Johnson, entitled: "Group IQ." The article contains an interview with one of the co-authors, Thomas Malone of MIT's Sloan School, and it also included comments from Iain Couzin of Princeton (who was a fellow panelist with me at the World Science Festival's Traffic panel in NYC in June 2009).

The Science article was co-authored by Anita Williams Woolley, Christopher F. Chabris, Alex Pentland, Nada Hashmi, and Thomas W. Malone.

Pentland is the author of the truly fascinating book, Honest Signals, and we had the pleasure of hosting him in our Speaker Series at the Isenberg School.

He will be presenting a tutorial at the SBP 2011 conference on March 28, 2011 at the University of Maryland.

I was sufficiently intrigued by the Globe article to go and read the Science article.

In the article, the authors define a group's collective intelligence, c, as the general ability to perform a wide variety of tasks. Interestingly, they found that:

The "c factor" is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group!

The moral from this research study and "bosses" should listen up: do not dominate the conversation and include females (may I even say "diversity" matters) in the group if you wish to enhance collective intelligence and problem-solving, since social sensitivity makes a quantifiable difference.

Interestingly, recently, I published a paper on the wisdom of crowds in transportation networks and the disappearance of the Braess paradox, which received a lot of media attention. I expect the intriguing issues being raised by such studies will stimulate further research. In the meantime, I am enjoying very much working with my fantastic and diverse team at the Virtual Center for Supernetworks!