We are smarter together than apart. The sum of our experience is more valuable when used collectively. It takes a village … Then why do we resort to an echo chamber when we are trying to solve a wicked problem? How do we get plowing down a path that becomes the only direction we look? An article on Aeon this morning entitled ” Group Smarts” by Jane Hu and some suggestions around building a ‘smart’ team. This matched, somewhat with a presentation I heard, on Saturday, at ‘Soul of the New Economy’ about Messy Collaboration. I will pull some thoughts from both and add what I think is important from my philosophy and practice.
From ” Group Smarts” Ms. Hu quotes Sir Francis Galton ( 1906) on the results of a contest he ran to guess the weight of an ox. “This result is, I think, more creditable to the trustworthiness of a democratic judgment than might have been expected,” when collectively they averaged 1197 pounds and actual weight was 1198. When collectively working to a defined conclusion we collectively do a good job. But how do we do when there isn’t an answer to be calculated or a past experience we can draw from?
Because of my affection and admiration for the hive, I did pause to think about bees and there ability to manage complex problems that require enormous collaboration. I marvel that the hive can be maintained at a constant temperature, optimal for the Queen and brood, by tiny fanning wings cooling or even tinier thorax muscles vibrating to add heat. My astonishment for the hive extends to how together they solve social problems like free loading drones or season changes. Each worker bee lives with a collective purpose – the next generation. The thousands of flights they take to bring nectar and pollen back, the cleaning and preening, the care of the brood focuses on insuring the survival of tomorrow’s workers. In recent years new circumstances have challenged hives across North America. Colony Collapse Disorder seems to be associated with neonicotinoids in pesticides and genetic mutation of monocrops is still destroying hives but the bees are adapting, breeding resistance and beginning to cope.
For bees under normal circumstances or for us in the adding and subtracting world, straight lines to a norm are helpful. “We have always done it this way so let’s do it this way again” In complex and shifting sands we both need some disrupters who begin the slow process of shifting the mindset and turning the caravan. In wicked and desperate situations we shouldn’t just accept dissent but we should find a way to demand it. In the past large stalward groups tried to plant naysayers like the advocatus diabli of Pope Leo X (1513-1521) but after a time they aren’t taken seriously. The devil’s advocate lacks the conviction to disrupt for long or to stray too far because their ‘job’ may be on the line.
I wonder if process can make room for and cultivate discord and resistance. Would built in tests; checks and balances, be enough to pause the race towards a preconceived and accepted conclusion? Would ‘forced’ divergence after every convergence help to moderate the echo chamber? I have used rapid prototyping and improv to add tiny explosions on the track and seen stunned expressions turn to awe turn to inspiration. As yet unimagined solutions rose through the tension and new approaches were discovered. This isn’t a on size fits all correction but I would encourage exploration of possible practices that add detours. Most teams will eventually manage the change if they aren’t constantly hustled to the next step. If the point is to discover a different and better approach then rushing towards a louder, brighter, faster version of today isn’t likely to generate it.
There are risks to working in disruptive collaboration. Strong personalities can attempt to dominate so facilitators need to be tactful and democratic. Variations on a theme have significant gravity so there needs to be a counter force pulling away from the safety of familiar. It seems that once the orbit changes the force needed to resist the status quo lessens and when teams witness unimagined solutions or exciting trajectories, they become confident in the exploration and can hold the unordinary and practical at the same time.
We are smarter together when we work smarter. When we broaden our horizons and search for a distant source of light, we might just discover a planet or a galaxy of better ideas.
Make Today Remarkable,