June 23rd, 2011
(written by lawrence, however indented passages are often quotes)
Malone: It’s a preliminary finding—and not a conventional one. The standard argument is that diversity is good and you should have both men and women in a group. But so far, the data show, the more women, the better.
Woolley: We have early evidence that performance may flatten out at the extreme end—that there should be a little gender diversity rather than all women.
You realize you’re saying that groups of women are smarter than groups of men.
Woolley: Yes. And you can tell I’m hesitating a little. It’s not that I don’t trust the data. I do. It’s just that part of that finding can be explained by differences in social sensitivity, which we found is also important to group performance. Many studies have shown that women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men do. So what is really important is to have people who are high in social sensitivity, whether they are men or women.
So you didn’t see a negative correlation with individual IQs—just a very weak positive correlation. In theory the 10 smartest people could still make a great group, right?
Woolley: In theory, yes, the 10 smartest people could make the smartest group, but it wouldn’t be just because they were the most intelligent individuals. What do you hear about great groups? Not that the members are all really smart but that they listen to each other. They share criticism constructively. They have open minds. They’re not autocratic. And in our study we saw pretty clearly that groups that had smart people dominating the conversation were not very intelligent groups.
Can teams be too group oriented? Everyone is so socially sensitive that there’s no leader?
Woolley: Anecdotally, we know that groups can become too internally focused. Our ongoing research suggests that teams need a moderate level of cognitive diversity for effectiveness. Extremely homogeneous or extremely diverse groups aren’t as intelligent.