There’s too much focus on individual performance, not enough on group performance. However, the most challenging work today is done in groups because problems are too complex for one person.
Cognitive Diverse Groups Perform Better
Cognitive diverse groups have less blindspots
We look at the world through limited frames (see [[Mental Model]] and [[Framing]]), which make our perspective uniquely biased and contain blind spots. We are oblivious to these blind spots (= perspective blindness), which makes us underestimate how much we can learn from people with different perspectives.
A group combines different frames together, which if they differ, cover reality more accurately and reduce blind spots.
Solutions to complex problems typically rely on multiple layers of insight and therefore require multiple points of view.
‘The more diverse the perspectives, the wider the range of potentially viable solutions a collection of problem solvers can find.’ – Philip Tetlock
Cognitive diversity = differences in perspective, insights, experiences and thinking styles
Demographic diversity = differences in experiences and personal characteristics, background. Often overlaps with cognitive diversity (but doesn’t have to).
In any domain that requires an understanding of broad groups of people, demographic diversity is likely to prove helpful. But in other contexts, like aircraft production, e.g. racial diversity offers no efficiency gains.
Homogeneous group: Similar people share each other’s blind spots and reinforce them. This is sometimes called ‘mirroring’. They are more likely to form false judgements with increased confidence. The irony is that these groups love working together.
Rebel ideas = insight not known to anyone else in the group, originating from their unique experiences.
Cognitive diverse groups are more innovative
Two types of innovation:
- Incremental (expertise growing within well-defined boundaries) (like [[Evolution and Natural Selection – Adapt or Die|Natural selection]])
- Recombinant innovation (combining before unrelated knowledge to new insights) (like sexual reproduction)
Ideas having sex. – Matt Ridley
Experts are often blind to other fields and fixed in their frames, which makes it hard for them to use recombination.
We ideally need both, conceptual depth and distance – expertise and general knowledge.
Sometimes (often actually) in business, you do know where you’re going, and when you do, you can be efficient. Put in place a plan and execute. In contrast, wandering in business is not efficient . . . but it’s also not random. It’s guided – by hunch, gut, intuition, curiosity . . . it’s worth being a little messy and tangential to find our way there. Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency . . . The outsized discoveries – the ‘non-linear’ ones – are highly likely to require wandering. – Jeff Bezos
Assumption Reversal: Taking the core assumptions and inverting them ([[Inversion]]). This spurs creativity. Technique by Michael Michalko.
Ideas are not subject to diminishing returns. It’s the opposite, sharing it increases its potential (= information spillover).
‘The thing about ideas is that they naturally inspire new ones. This is why places that facilitate idea-sharing tend to become more productive and innovative than those that don’t. Because when ideas are shared, the possibilities do not add up. They multiply.’ – Paul Romer
Innovations aren’t made by one great brain but the collective brain of connected minds and ideas at the time. (“shoulders of giants”)
Anecdotal evidence for people in the same collective brain having the same insights:
- Evolution theory: Darwin and X at the same time
- Sunspots discovery 1611 by 4 people in different countries
- Electrical battery, Dean von Kleist (1745) & Cuneus of Leyden (1746)
- Telephone, telegraph, steam engine, photograph, vacuum tube, etc.
Competition is a form of natural selection of good ideas on a system level.
The crowd is (sometimes) wise
The wisdom of the crowd is a concept that suggests that a large group of people collectively possesses more accurate information, knowledge, and insight than any individual within that group. In other words, the collective intelligence of a diverse group can lead to better decision-making and problem-solving compared to that of an expert or a small group of experts.
‘With valid information piling up and errors nullifying themselves, the net result is an astonishingly accurate estimate.’ – Philip Tetlock
Research has indicated that wisdom of the crowd works best for observational, creative, and estimation-based solutions, while those that ask for specific answers to concrete questions and necessitate expertise-based knowledge are less useful from a network of non-expert minds.
Why does wisdom of the crowd work?
- Reduces individual errors by averaging out individual noise. The statistical likelihood that any single person will get a specific question wrong is countered by the likelihood that at least some people will get it right. If you get a wide enough range of answers, you will almost always get closer to a functional answer than an average individual would because of how probability distribution works.
- Spurs collective imagination and increases solution space. Certain types of cognitive task, like creativity and problem-solving, benefit from the increased range of perspectives and experiences crowd-thinking provides.
Widely available information might influence the crowd at scale and skew the results (Source, Source opinion). There’s a knowledge-based [[Feedback Loops]] that can shift the crowds general sentiment.
How to create diverse groups
Individual tests cannot create intelligent groups
‘Suppose you are building a team to come up with creative ideas. First, any test applied to an individual can only measure that individual’s ideas. Second, a clone of the person who scores highest on whatever test we apply necessarily adds less to the group than a second person with a single different idea. Therefore, no test can exist.’ – Scott Page
In other words, any type of standardized testing leads to less cognitive diversity in a team since only the “high-performers” on specific metrics are chosen.
Enable constructive dissent in groups
How are useful information and perspectives combined? For diversity to work its magic, different perspectives and judgements must be expressed.
Honest dissent is not disruptive, but imperative.
great cultures bring problems and disagreements to the surface and solve them well, and they love imagining and building great things that haven’t been built before. Doing that sustains their evolution. In our case, we do that by having an idea meritocracy that strives for meaningful work and meaningful relationships through radical truth and radical transparency. – Ray Dalio
Establish psychological safety
An environment is psychologically safe when people feel they can offer suggestions and take sensible risks without provoking retaliation.
Balance dominance and prestige hierarchies
Humans are inherently hierarchical and form hierarchies.
When one or two people dominate, it suppresses the insights of others in the team, particularly the introverts. If the dominant person is the leader, this makes things even worse, with people parroting back his opinions.
(HiPPO – highest paid person’s opinion)
This can create a dangerous [[Feedback Loops]] where people start to share the information that corroborates that view, and subconsciously withhold information that might call it into question. Diversity of thought vanishes. This is called an information cascade.
People often don’t contradict others opinions, because they don’t want to appear rude.
The pervasiveness of dominance hierarchies hints that they serve an important evolutionary purpose. When the choices that confront a tribe or group are simple, it makes sense for a leader to make decisions, and for everyone else to fall into line. This boosts speed and coordination.
How, can an organisation have hierarchy and information sharing, decisiveness and diversity?
Leadership that doesn’t demand respect from subordinates, but who earns it; whose status is not signalled by aggression, but wisdom; whose actions don’t tend to intimidate, but to liberate. This is hierarchy based on prestige.
‘There is a time and place for prestige, and a time and place for dominance. Wise leaders are able to pivot back and forth between the two. When executing a plan, dominance can be crucial. But when deciding on a new strategy, or predicting the future, or finding new innovations, you need to hear diverse perspectives. This is where dominance can be disastrous.’ – Jon Maner
Techniques to create a environment for effective communication
- Amazon technique for safeguarding effective communication: Golden Silence: 30 minutes quiet time at the beginning of a meeting to read memo.
- Brainwriting: Write down ideas asynchronously and anonymously before voting.
- Radical Transparency at Bridgewater (Ray Dalio)
Compensatory control: When we put our fait into dominant figureheads when we’re confronted with high uncertainty.
Avoid echo chambers
Having a diverse network increases the range of influences and hence, your creativity.
Ironically, people being part of a large community makes them seek out narrower social groups because it’s easier to find “their kind of people” (“fine-grained assorting”). In smaller communities you have to take what you get.
Information Bubbles = when people on the inside see only their side of the argument and nothing else. This is rare.
Echo chambers = cut people off from alternative views through informational filtering (input sources or “authorities” and discrediting of others). Common, because we live in a world where information moves freely but also abundantly. We can’t verify all and so have to rely on experts.
Check: Does the community actively undermine the trustworthiness of any outsider who criticises their central beliefs? (ad hominem argument)
Average can be misleading
‘When an average is being used well, it’s harnessing the insights from multiple people. When it’s used badly, it’s imposing a solution for multiple people.’ – Neil Lawrence, Amazon
In normal distributions the average helps to understand data (e.g. human height). In a multimodal distribution the average isn’t representative. (e.g. diet recommendations, learning types, etc.)
Best practice cannot be established by comparing standardised solutions, it requires the comparison of different kinds of flexibility. It’s the more flexible systems that often win.
Limitations of flexibility are error and loss of speed.