New research out of Harvard Business School has some interesting, and at first, seemingly counter-intuitive,...

New research out of Harvard Business School has some interesting, and at first, seemingly counter-intuitive,…

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New research out of Harvard Business School has some interesting, and at first, seemingly counter-intuitive, implications for the way we coordinate problem solving with others.

In short, it may help to organize ourselves quite differently for information gathering and for solution generation. Both are important for problem solving, and yet, if we use the same kind of organizational structure for both, we may reduce the diversity of potential solutions from which to choose. 

This is network science put to good use. I’ve kept this write-up short and succinct (a two-minute read), but it includes a link to the actual paper for more details.

#networks   #collaboration   #problemsolving  

Special thanks to Chris Sutton and David Amerland for first calling my attention to this study here on Google+ (just one more example, by the way, of the network’s superior ability to discover new information).

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  1. Gideon Rosenblatt it’s a really good piece. I reshared it on Twitter already. 

  2. I suppose that’s why “fresh eyes” (aka consultants!) can find solutions that in-house staff struggles with.  The staff is too connected to each other to see how to solve the problem.

  3. Gideon Rosenblatt it’s true that it’s sometimes easier to come up with original ideas when you’re not influenced by the constraints of group thinking. But I think there’s still a place for good old fashioned brainstorming sessions. With the right group chemistry, it’s possible to generate ideas and solutions that no single member of the group would have come up with alone.

  4. Thanks, David Amerland. As we were noting over on Chris Sutton’s thread just now, the reason that you even notified me about this research in the first place was our conversation the other day about setting boundaries around how much time and energy we choose to invest in our online connectivity. 

  5. That’s an excellent insight, Jodi Kaplan. Yes, an outside view like that of the consultant really does do that I think. In some cases, it’s a simple as asking the seemingly obvious questions that people inside the organization have for some reason not been able to see for themselves. 

    These researchers did an amazing job of structuring this study, by the way. I didn’t write this up, but essentially they modeled it on the game of Clue, by getting participants to answer the who, what, where, and how behind a terrorist attack. 

  6. Interesting about that last point,  Gideon Rosenblatt, is that I do the same thing quite a bit.   While, I hadn’t thought to use Clue as a model, I do ask “who do you want to reach, what do you do for them,” and so on.

    And, you’re right, when people are too close to something, it’s hard for them to see clearly.

  7. I think you’re right, George Cohn. Brainstorming has its place, but it’s funny, the most productive brainstorming I’ve done in the past was always with a very small group. In some cases, it was really just with one other person. In a way, dialogue captures those kinds of sessions best: 

    Dialogue is not discussion, a word that shares its root meaning with “percussion” and “concussion,” both of which involve breaking things up. Nor is it debate. These forms of conversation contain an implicit tendency to point toward a goal, to hammer out an agreement, to try to solve a problem or have one’s opinion prevail.

    – David Bohm

  8. I’m with you on the very small group Gideon Rosenblatt. It all has to do with the chemistry of the people in the room, and the larger the group is, the more complex the chemistry equation becomes. (I realize chemistry’s hard to quantify, but I know it when I see it.)

  9. I’m trying to remember where I was reading this lately, but a lot of why brainstorming within existing groups fails is because everyone is too invested in the status quo. By an “existing group” I’m referring to a group of employees at at company. That group is heavily invested in Not Rocking The Boat. Everyone’s paycheck depends on stability of the organization, which reduces the tolerance for risk. 

    Outsiders are not as heavily invested in Not Rocking The Boat, so they aren’t mentally locked down by the need to keep the paycheck showing up every week. 

  10. Also, in Robert Scoble/Shel Israel’s book “Age of Context” they talked about a company called Keas that does employee fitness programs and their research found that 6 was the optimum group size. That’s just enough ideas to keep the “pot” boiling but not so many that it just becomes noise and no agreement can be reached. 

  11. I think it’s more important to analyze the health of your organization to PREVENT groupthink and encourage creativity and debate. Reflecting on the way we reward is crucial. Often it’s too easy to build incremental solutions.

  12. Gideon Rosenblatt Einstein said that

    “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

    This is why, in coaching, we don’t spend a lot of time analyzing the ‘problem’, but rather the ‘desired state’ and how to create it. It’s no wonder that a team that has analyzed a problem in all its glory and ramifications, are so aware of all the things that won’t work, so they (especially in a group) are either unable, or unwilling to come up with solutions that ignore all the existing caveats.

  13. I think your point about vested interests is a good one, Sandy Fischler. And it’s interesting to think about the term “stakeholders” in that sense. The key, I think, is getting these stakeholders to shift their focus from an investment in what was once true, to what will one day be true. In other words, to shift from an investment in the firm’s past to an investment in its future. And to do that, it often means shaking things up. 

  14. Yes, Bob Calder, it’s really interesting to look at Brian Arthur’s history of innovation in technology, where he really focuses on the benefits of incrementalism and building upon what was there before. But even in that, he notes that the really large shifts happen when someone is able to see a solution and apply it to a completely new physical principle or domain – for example, moving from vacuum tubes to transistors for processing power. 

    So, I guess what I’m saying is that it’s important to be able to tap the incremental because it’s so easy (and therefore practical/inexpensive) to do so, but then we also need to be able to make those breaks to the new. 

  15. Susanne Ramharter, yes, yes, yes. I’d never thought about that goal-orientation of coaching from that perspective. It reminds me of an NLP technique that CJ Liu uses from time to time when clients (who sometimes include her non-paying husband) say they don’t see a solution to a problem. Her reply is “so, imagine if you did…”

  16. From my observation existing information is part of the existing energy field we are within. When group of people focus on certain topic, listen carefully to each other then the waves of existing similar information overlap in coherence and information become more clear and visible in consciousness.

    I couldn’t find the link to the whole study to see if there is any link to quantum physics.

    Also it’s true the new solution requires creativity which is shaped on the individual level first. The group can integrate these solutions which count as information after it transcend to the group ..

  17. Thanks for catching that, Wael Al-Saad. That link was broken. I’ve updated it and it should work now. 

  18. Does the link to quantum physics and field theory has any relevance to this topic?

  19. I’m not following you, Wael Al-Saad. I thought you were talking about the link to the actual study. What link to quantum physics and field theory? 

  20. In my first comment Ive tried to explain my personal observation about how the thoughts of a group of peaple focus and listen while discussing certain topics are feeding each other like energy waves in coherent, as if the existing field information they are gathering gets more intensity. I see here relation to quantum physics because the possibility to get in chorence to different onformation is stronger when many of these signals comes together.

    On the other hand the creative process is taking place on the individual awaken and silent state of the mind, where no listing or focusing on others thoughts is taking place. Here new conciousness is born then.

  21. That’s a really nice way of thinking about it, Wael Al-Saad. Thanks for reemphasizing your point. I get it now. 

  22. I remember that conversation, Nollind Whachell, and I remember at the time a sense of frustration because I don’t think I truly understood your point at the time. We were disconnecting on the idea of “social” – did you mean social in the sense of “integrative”? 

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