Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Bayesian Heresy: Understanding Innovation

Scott Page, as quoted by Bayesian Heresy, asserts that a diverse team of good thinkers will be more creative than a less diverse team of very good thinkers:
The Bayesian Heresy: Understanding Innovation

...First, for any problem there exists a perspective that makes it easy to grasp a solution, though that may mean waiting for a person as unique as Edison to come along. Second, across all problems no perspective or no heuristic is any better than any other. In plain English, any approach may be just as good as any other until it is tested.

Third, teams of problem solvers—viewed as bundles of perspectives and heuristics brought together to solve a particular problem—do better when the diversity of perspectives and heuristics is greater than the overall ability or talent of the team’s members. In other words, diverse teams outperform teams composed of the very best individuals. Diversity trumps ability.

This last result requires further explanation. A team, a group, or even an entire society innovates through iterative application of perspectives and heuristics. Individuals who perform best obviously possess good perspectives and heuristics (think Edison), yet 30 Edisons each may have 20 useful heuristics while collectively possessing a mere 25. In contrast, the diverse team’s individual members may on average only know 15 heuristics apiece but collectively know 40.
I don't buy it. There are confounding variables such as communications latency, ability to cooperate, response to incentives, and solution collision (multiple semi-compatible good quality solutions that, when combined, produce a weak result). Diversity is valuable, but I've never seen it trump ability by itself.

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