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« i-Neighbors: Local social capital | Main | The Great Scam: Reactions »

August 17, 2004

Captainitis

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Posted by Ross Mayfield

Psychologist Patrick Laughlin from the University of Illinois has a new study that shows that groups outperform even the best individuals in decision making. Always good to rethink groupthink, but I’m not digging up the echo chamber meme.

A cooperating unit benefits from diversity and parallel processing. Without cooperation, errors such as captainitis (when a team defers to the expertise of others) and when a leader possesses so much expertise they isolate themselves. The article suggests a common lesson of invoking collaboration even when its not immeadiately necessary.

With our little company, it helps that we work openly as possible and I try to involve as many people as feasible in a decision. We also borrow the extreme programming practice of pairing to get tasks done. Even Watson and Crick cracked the code through pairing:

At first, Watson ticked off a set of contributory factors that were unsurprising: He and Crick had identified the problem as the most important one to attack. They were passionate about it, devoting themselves single-mindedly to the task. They were willing to try approaches that came from outside their areas of familiarity. Then he added a stunning reason for their success: he and Crick had cracked the elusive code of DNA because they weren’t the most intelligent of the scientists pursuing the answer. According to Watson, the smartest of the lot was Rosalind Franklin, a brilliant British scientist who was working in Paris at the time.

The only thing more dangerous than someone making decisions in isolation is hoarding the information others need to make decisions.

Related: Best practice does not equal best strategy (process-based strategic decision making fails); more on the wisdom of crowds.

[via Jeff Nolan]

Update: Valids Krebs points out the Captainitis of the new Intelligence Czar, which increases the distance from the President to sources of information. Social network analysis aside, in today’s administration, this could be a good or a bad thing.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


COMMENTS

1. JamesJayTrouble on August 18, 2004 11:41 AM writes...

I couldn't stomach the article.

Psychologists have an understanding of psychology as phrenologists have an understanding of the brain.

I read Watson's _Double Helix_, iirc, 30 years ago. He was a vain-glorious blogger, but he got results. As usual, somebody selling SSN blog-meme is gonna wanna believe crap, and that's what this is:

Pure crap.

Watson-Crick were two captains.

Yeah, synergy is good. If I come to work for your company, Mayfield, can I have just as much input on THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISIONS as you do...???

IF the answer is yes, THEN you would be a True Captain of the Industry. The FantasyBlogWorld-industry. Oh yeah, you are...)-;

IF the answer is no, THEN you would be trying to sell some snakeoil with this blogging. *OR you could be working backwards from what you wanna believe to the facts of the matter... Which normally induces effects identical to a Libertarian Lobotomy.

And, iirc, you being pretty Libertarian politically, I'd say that was the prior cause of this effect, Mr. Mayfield, et al.

:

"It's been real..." (tm) of somebody, no doubt.

"Know time like the present" (tm) of somebody, no doubt.

Permalink to Comment

2. Franklin's Bulldog on August 18, 2004 11:44 AM writes...

Watson should also have mentioned that he and Crick cracked the code before Franklin because "another Randall research associate, Maurice Wilkins, showed some of her X-ray diffraction photographs of DNA to James D. Watson, whereupon Watson, with Francis Crick, succeeded in determining the molecule's structure." See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalind_Franklin

Permalink to Comment

3. Ross Mayfield on August 18, 2004 6:40 PM writes...

Sheesh, you think I'm a Libertarian? And, ah well, nevermind.

Permalink to Comment

4. Scott Moore on August 19, 2004 6:22 PM writes...

Can we put the discussion back on track? I wrote the Dr. Laughlin and he gave me these sources for his studies.

Laughlin, P. R., Bonner, B. L., & Miner, A. G. (2002). Groups perform better than the best individuals on Letters-to-Numbers problems.
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 88, 605-620.

Laughlin, P. R., Zander, M. L., Knievel, E. M., & Tan, T. K. (2003).
Groups perform better than the best individuals on Letters-to-Numbers
problems: Informative equations and effective strategies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 684-694.

Also, there was an interesting study referenced in "tipping point" about division of memory between people based on trust, but I forgot to grab the reference this morning. Perhaps someone else has it handy.

Personally, I think the author of the article makes a stretch with his captainitis point, particularly with the doctors/nurses study. I think the explanation that the duties and responsibilities of each role leads to a specialization of knowledge. Nurses carry a lot of knowledge about the daily care of patients that doctors don't (coordinating food and medicine schedules of multiple patients, basic hygine of waste and bathing). An alternative conclusion that can be drawn from the articles example is that nurses tend to trust that doctors are being responsible for *their* area of specialized knowledge--medication changes for a patient.

Anyway, the sense I get about these group decisions studies are better than individual experts are pretty limited to descrete, verifiable numerical answers. But if anyone has studies that examine broader group decision making, they would be interesting.

Permalink to Comment

5. JamesJayTrouble on August 21, 2004 9:17 AM writes...

"Can we put the discussion back on track?"

I suppose I could answer that one easy enuf...

Permalink to Comment

6. JamesJayTrouble on August 21, 2004 9:41 AM writes...

"Can we put the discussion back on track?"

I suppose I could answer that one easy enuf...

Oh yeah, I already did:

"Psychologists have an understanding of psychology as phrenologists have an understanding of the brain."

As did you:

"I wrote the Dr. Laughlin and he gave me these sources for his studies."

He cited his own studies, so I didn't both to read them. A non-Libertarian would note that there's a great body of pseudo-science being sold to the Libertarians, and psychologists aren't the only one's capable of pulling this scam.

(Nor are Libertarian-minded the only ones who don't even notice the inherent blogus nature of this pseudo-science.)

Mr. Mayfield, you and Tim Oren had wanted to place a wager a while back, (about 6 months back?,) I think about the keys to the upcoming (U.S.) elections. You may vote Democratic, but your Libertarian attitude is pretty apparent, in a number of other ways also.

Especially when you start tech talkin' those you apparently don't understand.

"And, ah well, nevermind."

Permalink to Comment

7. JamesJayTrouble on August 21, 2004 10:26 AM writes...

"Can we put the discussion back on track?"

I suppose I could answer that one easy enuf...

Oh yeah, I already did:

"Psychologists have an understanding of psychology as phrenologists have an understanding of the brain."

As did you:

"I wrote the Dr. Laughlin and he gave me these sources for his studies."

He cited his own studies, so I didn't bother to read them. A non-Libertarian would note that there's a great body of pseudo-science being sold to those who have been given the Libertarian Lobotomy, and psychologists aren't the only one's capable of pulling this scam.

(Nor are Libertarian-minded the only ones who don't even notice the inherent blogus nature of this pseudo-science.)

Furthermore, if you can't figure anything out without a study, than skip this one:

I've studied politics a bit in the past 4 years, and seen office politics and social politics and all that.

So my hypothesis is that I could pick a small number of "captains" (or one) and they could do a better job deciding who can be the next President of the United States MUCH BETTER than any "lame group decision-making process" like voting.

This is patently obvious because, at the VERY least there would be NO QUESTION about who won, and this is basically the method employed in most countries today, fairly successfully. (And some would say that IS the method employed in the U.S. but I disagree and find that laughable.)

Of course, and this is what stymies intelligent discussion from psychologists and bloggers and other stupid people who over-rely on studies.

It first assumes a consensus on what the precise definition of "better" is. And that is not a question amenable to the scientific method, although there are $billions and $billions spent trying to convince people otherWise. Mis-spent. Not spent on good science, but spent marketing this falsehood-meme, in essence.

I would settle for rational discussion over this pseudo-science, anyday.

Iow, maybe I don't really believe voting is lame, but I could prove the point scientifically, if I wanted to.

Mr. Mayfield, you and Tim Oren had wanted to place a wager a while back, (about 6 months back?,) I think about the keys to the upcoming (U.S.) elections. You may vote Democratic, but your Libertarian attitude is pretty apparent, in a number of other ways also.

Especially when you start tech talkin' those you apparently don't understand.

"And, ah well, nevermind."

Permalink to Comment

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