Solo Performance

A mountain of studies has shown that face-to-face brainstorming and teamwork often lead to inferior decisionmaking. That’s because social dynamics lead groups astray; they coalesce around the loudest extrovert’s most confidently asserted idea, no matter how daft it might be.

What works better? “Virtual” collaboration—with team members cogitating on solutions alone, in private, before getting together to talk them over. As Susan Cain (who write Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking) discovered, researchers have found that groups working in this fashion generate better ideas and solve problems more adroitly. To really get the best out of people, have them work alone first, then network later.

Sounds like the way people collaborate on the Internet, doesn’t it? With texting, chat, status updates, comment threads, and email, you hash over ideas and thoughts with a pause between each utterance, giving crucial time for reflection. Plus, you can do so in private.

(The) overall the irony here is pretty gorgeous. It suggests we’ve been thinking about the social web the wrong way. We generally assume that it has unleashed an unruly explosion of disclosure, a constant high school of blather. But what it has really done is made our culture more introverted—and productively so. Now if we could just get some doors on those cubicles.

Clive Thompson writing in Wired Magazine

spreading the blame

Researchers at UCLA say blame is contagious. Even when we just observe a public display of blame we are more likely to do the same. Volunteers were asked to read about California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger blaming others for a problem while a different group read how the governor accepted personal responsibility for the crisis. Both groups then wrote about a failure in their own lives. Those who saw blame modeled for them were almost a third more likely to join the blame game and put the fault for their failure on someone else. However, the number of blamers dropped when volunteers first wrote down their core values.

The researchers theorized that a reminder of how to make wise choices made it less likely individuals feel the need to defend themselves by blaming others and more willing to take responsibility. A USC professor conducted similar experiences and came to the conclusion that publicly blaming others dramatically increases the likelihood that the practice will become viral.

When leaders, parents, or even friends make a practice of blaming others for their failures, they are encouraging people in their circle of influence to do the same. People become less willing to take risks, they become less innovative and less creative and less likely to learn from their mistakes. Blame creates a culture of fear.

Stephen Goforth

Talking Through a Problem

Can’t figure out a complicated problem? Talk about it out loud or doodle on some paper. Psychologists in Spain say their tests show processing information verbally or visually is more effective than remaining silent and still. They put students in separate rooms and gave them the same problems to solve. The students who talked to themselves or drew pictures to map out solutions finished first and scored higher. Psychologist Jose Luis Villegas Castellanos says he isn’t sure why it works this way but believes verbal and visual problems-solving creates greater opportunities to discover the right answers.

Stephen Goforth

I feel smart when...

Certain kinds of verbal praise can be detrimental to learning. Young children who constantly hear “person” praise (“you’re so smart to do this well”) as opposed to “task” praise (“you did that well”) are more likely to believe that intelligence is fixed rather than expandable with hard work. When they subsequently face setbacks after receiving person praise, their views of intelligence can cause them to develop a sense of helplessness (“I’m not as smart as I once thought I was”).

When researchers asked these children to describe what made them feel smart, they talked about tasks they found easy, that required little effort, and they could do before anyone else without making mistakes. In contrast, their peers who they thought they got smarter by trying harder and learning new things said they felt intelligent when they didn’t understand something, tried really hard, and then go it, or figured out something new.

In other words, the children with the fixed view of intelligence and a sense of helplessness felt smart only when they avoided those activities most likely to help them learn – struggling, grappling, and making mistakes.

These children are likely to have “performance goals”. They want to achieve perfection or get the “right” answer to impress other people because they want to appear to be one of the “smart people”. They are afraid of making mistakes. They will often carefully calculate how much they need to achieve to win the proper praise and do no more than that, for fear that they might fail in the eyes of others. Some of these people do excel by some standards, but they still achieve primarily for the sake of that external recognition and fall short of where they might go.

In contrast, students who believe that they can become more intelligent by learning (a “mastery orientation’) often work essentially to increase their own competence (adopting “learning goals”), not to win rewards. They are more likely to take risks in learning, to try harder tasks, and consequently learn more than children who are performance-oriented.

Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do