Diversity & Teams

I’ve been reading “The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki lately and he makes a compelling case for composing teams of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and skill sets. He claims that teams that are composed only of “experts” do not do as well as teams that are composed of a mix of experts, novices, and average players too. Apparently, the range of perspectives for problem solving is broader for more heterogeneous teams. Teams that are too homogeneous, even if they are experts, tend to limit their solutions to their own known problem space. They don’t look outside the box.

So Surowiecki recommends that it might not be the best strategy to hire “The best and the brightest”, but rather we should be looking for people who are smart, but are very different from ourselves. Perhaps we are not looked for the most talented. Instead we should seek unskilled people who are new to the business, Average folks who come from different domains, people who see things differently.

This confirms an intuition of my own: teams composed of average talents consistently outperform teams composed of superstars. For a while, I thought it was just me. In my own experience, I’ve never been all that successful when I’ve worked with the “best and the brightest” for a team. In fact, it’s usually a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, when I have worked with a team of people who were competent,  but not especially remarkable, we’ve achieved some pretty remarkable things. Hmmm…This Surowiecki guy might just be on to something there.

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