The ideas of individuals make a team effective

One of the blogs on my regular RSS reading list is Creating Passionate Users, a collaborative blog by five authors at Head First Books from O’Reilly Media.

In a real gem of a post, Kathy Sierra talks about how one of us is smarter than all of us, meaning that it’s not the consensus decisions of a group of people that matter, it’s the aggregated ideas and thoughts of each individual in the group that’s the important thing.

In her post, Kathy talks about a presentation she heard at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference a few weeks ago by James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine.

She says:

At its simplest form, it means that if you take a bunch of people and ask them (as individuals) to answer a question, the average of each of those individual answers will likely be better than if the group works together to come up with a single answer.

[…] He makes other really important points including one that’s related to my previous post on the lack of women at ETech – diversity increases the quality of the aggregated wisdom of the group. If you have too many people who are alike, then no matter how smart they all are, they may not come up with the same quality of answer than if you have less smart folks who have a very different point of view. Diversity brings new information. And that new information is valuable.

Such thinking flies in the face of much accepted wisdom in organizations where the deeply-held notion is that it’s the team, not the individual, that matters most.

The aggregated thoughts and ideas of individuals sounds much more effective to me.

See also – James Surowiecki on the Unwisdom of Crowds by Wade Roush.