Two (or more) heads are better than one

Perplexing Problem? Borrow Some Brains by Robert Cialdini on the HBS Working Knowledge site looks at the reasons behind the power of collaborative problem-solving:

First, the lone problem solver can’t match the diversity of knowledge and perspectives of a multiperson unit that includes him. Other members will have had experiences with similar or related problems that will allow the team to recognize fruitful versus fruitless choices more clearly and quickly. Furthermore, this diversity of input can do more than merely add to the storehouse of information that the best problem solver can employ; it can also stimulate thinking processes that would not have developed in wholly internal monologues….

Second, the solution seeker who goes it alone loses a significant advantage–the power of parallel processing. Whereas a cooperating unit can distribute the many subtasks of a problem-solving campaign among its members, the lone operator must perform each sequentially.

In fact, smart people often hamper themselves because they are smart–so smart that they don’t ask for input from others.

Sometimes the sole decision-maker justifies working a problem on his own because it saves time. A quick result doesn’t save time when it’s not a good result. Further, when others aren’t involved in solving a problem or reaching a decision, they may not buy into it. So while it may take less time for the mental activity when one person does it (though the HBS article says this isn’t necessarily true) implementing takes more time — as other are convinced or brought up to speed on the thinking.

I’ve seen this happen over and over.

Unfortunately, we don’t learn much about collaborative problem-solving or decision making at school or in traditional hierarchical work environments.

So here are some resources:

See my earlier posts on facilitative leadership and focused conversation (near the bottom of the post).

Visit these folks have been using simple but powerful methods to engage groups in collaborative problem solving all over the world for 30 years. Much of their work is in community development; however the ICA methods translate to the work place. I learned Focused Conversation from ICA. I use ICA methods every day in every way 🙂

ICA Canada has published a couple of books on their methods: The Art of Focused Conversation and The Workshop Book.

Check out Sam Kaner’s book, Facilitators Guide to Participatory Decision Making.

Come to my short workshop on Collaborative Decision Making at SD Best Practices 9/22 in Boston.

Come to my longer workshop on Collaborative Decision Making at the AYE Conference in November.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart.