If you were given a problem to solve and access to individuals to help find a solution, would you prefer a group of high performers or a more intellectually diverse group? Most of us would cast our lot with the high performers, but some research from a fairly esoteric construct called “swarm intelligence” would call our decision into question.
Swarm intelligence was first noted in ants, schools of fish, and flocks of birds. There has also been fairly extensive scientific research on swarm intelligence in humans.
One example of this research was carried out by a team who asked visitors to a science museum to play a marble guessing game – requiring them to estimate how many marbles were in a jar. A paper published in Animal Behavior (Krause, 2011) detailing the results of the study stated that “a group of individually high performers can be outcompeted by a same size group of low performers.” They also found that “adding diversity to a group can be more beneficial than adding expertise.”
The next time you face a problem in your organization, try adding diversity to the problem solving team. This could do two good things. First, it might help you find a better solution to the problem. Second, it could really embolden some often overlooked employees to feel validated in their jobs.
Stefan Krause, et. al, “Swarm intelligence in humans: diversity can trump ability,” Animal Behavior, Volume 81. Issue 5, May 2011, Pages 941-948