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Savings Groups: Self-Organizing Agents for Change

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Saturday, April 11, 2015

Catalyzing Capacity for Problem Solving

 

In Just six years, membership in local savings groups in some of the world's poorest regions has burgeoned from one million to ten million people spread across 65 countries, an extraordinary growth rate for a global social movement.

 

Members of savings groups agree to contribute small savings on a regular basis to a communal fund, and they agree to loan money to each other when need arises. They augment the fund by agreeing to pay small amounts of interest on the loan, and small fees for late or missed deposits. There are no administrative bureaucracies, no subsidies and no institutional support. Once the groups are established, they operate with virtually no outside help.

 

The task of aid workers is not to provide services, asserts Jeffrey Ashe, a fellow at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire and a research fellow in Global Development and Environment at Tufts University. "It's to catalyze the capacity of people in poor communities to resolve their own problems." In fact, he says, many savings groups around the world have not only maintained their existence for financial purposes, but have developed the social capital and cohesion that has allowed them to expand their reach to community needs in agriculture, health, education, and business literacy.

 

Ashe is the author, with his colleague Kyla Jagger Neilan, of In Their Own Hands: How Savings Groups Are Revolutionizing Development. It's an inspiring account of achievement and innovation. People experienced with local culture, called animators, helped the groups organize and practice inclusive conversation and reflection that let them develop their own rules and practices.   

 

Frances Moore Lappe, co-founder of The Small Plane Institute, an international organization devoted to fostering conditions for inclusive democracies, says successful societies have distributed power, transparency in human relationships, and a culture of mutual accountability, all characteristics that are embodied in savings groups. "I see the beginning of self organizing power to meet deep human needs: for connection, for meaning, and for power itself, for power understood as our capacity to create ad make an imprint," she wrote in a forward to the book.

 

Ashe, a pioneer of microfinance, spent decades helping people in impoverished urban areas in Africa, India and Central America, get small loans to start small businesses and earn money to support their families. He received the first Presidential Award for Excellence in Microfinance from former President Clinton. Despite microfinance successes, Ashe realized it wasn't reaching extremely poor people in rural areas, and people in regions disrupted by conflict and economic collapse. He had learned from experience that very poor people can save, and that people can learn the mechanics of financial operations and record keeping without having had formal schooling. For instance, seeds, pebbles and twigs can be used to tally outstanding loans and interest.  

 

He launched and led the Oxfam America Saving for Change initiative that catalyzed savings groups among some 650,000 women in Mali, Senegal, Cambodia, El Salvador and Guatemala. The work scaled rapidly because with minimal outside help, members of successful groups helped others start their own savings groups. Ashe and colleagues focused on women savers, because women generally manage households and care for the needs of children¸ and women in African countries traditionally worked together in some way to survive on tiny sums of money. Local NGO workers who understood cultural contexts helped group members design their own procedures, meeting and contribution schedules, and election of officers.  

 

Interestingly, the same design and organizational processes were successful in Guatemala, where men had traditionally opposed collective action by women. Eventually women who organized savings groups there discovered transformative power in supportive relationships. They turned their energy to safety from domestic abuse and other human rights issues, and won elections to public office. In Mali, sustainable savings groups worked on such local needs as preventing soil depletion and improved agricultural practices.  

 

Listen to tomorrow's PlexusCall (details below) to learn more about what savings groups have achieved, how they scaled up, and prospects for future growth of savings initiatives in financially underserved populations in the U.S. Ashe was the founder and director of Working Capital, a group based microlending program that operated in Delaware, New England and Florida, and was for several years the nation's largest micro-lender.

 

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Our Capacity for Interconnectivity Has Limits

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Saturday, April 11, 2015

Does Your Group Pass the "Two Pizza" Test?

 

Are we hard wired to function best in teams of a certain size? Some scientists and business leaders think our cognition and performance suffer when a team gets too big.

 

In their book Connected: the Surprising Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler discuss the work of psychologist Robin Dunbar, who studied the size of different kinds of human groups. The basic Roman army unit was 120 men, and armies throughout many centuries have had 150 men in a unit. Analogous modern armies tend to be about 180 soldiers. Those numbers suggest that despite technological advances, there's an upper limit to the size of a group in which members can function in a coordinated, comprehensive way. Dunbar identified four as the optimum size for a human conversational group, and Connected authors say other researchers studying restaurant patrons, dinner parties and beach goers found people tend to gather in conversational clusters of four.

 

So what's the right size for a group assembled to launch a product or a sales campaign, to do research, or seek innovation? Rich Karlgaard, in a piece in "Forbes" magazine, advises "Think (Really) Small." Karlgaard notes Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, advocates the "two pizza rule" for team size. A group that needs more than two pizzas is too big, Bezos has asserted. Bezos thinks people communicate more effectively and productively in small groups, and get more done more quickly. In her management blog, Janet Choi describes some of the science behind this idea, and it supports Dunbar's finding that there are limits on the numbers when it comes to effectiveness in groups of people working closely together.

 

Karlgaard and Choi explain that the issue is how we manage all the connections between and among people, and organizational psychologists have come up with a formula that shows how the complexity of the network expands exponentially with each additional member. If you multiply the number of people in a group by that number minus one, and divide by two, you'll see the number of links or connections. Karlgaard provides a chart:

 

2 members = 1 connection

3 members = 3 connections

4 members = 6 connections

6 members = 15 connections

16 members = 256 connections

32 members = 1,024 connections

 

Karlgaard says if a team reaches 1,500 members, and some big company divisions do, the number of interconnections reaches 2.25 million. Our brains can't handle that, and in very large groups, relationships tend to degrade. Choi quotes research suggesting that people in very large teams are more stressed, work more slowly, and are more vulnerable to miscommunication and misinformation.

 

Researchers and business leaders vary on optimum size, but most advocate keeping working team membership in the single digits. The Two Pizza rule means it's six or seven. Organizational psychologist J. Richard Hackman likes five and he says don't have more than 10. Management expert Bob Sutton says the U.S. Navy Seals consider four people the optimal number for a combat team."

 

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The Uncertainties in Incentive Design

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, March 27, 2015

 

The Heisenberg Principle in Evaluations

 When great emphasis is placed on one element of an evaluation, people will focus on that measure, sometimes with good results that are in line with a desired objective, and sometimes to game the system and cheat. 

 New York Times Columnist Eduardo Porter says that phenomenon is best known as Goodhart’s Law, after British economist Charles Goodhart. Porter adds that Luis Garicano, of the London School of Economics, calls it the “Heisenberg Principle of incentive design,” likening it to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics.  As Porter summarizes, “a performance metric is only useful as a performance metric as long as it isn’t being used a performance metric.” 

Porter’s recent column cites several examples of Goodhart’s Law. In 2004 the Chinese government decreed that there should be far fewer accidental deaths, and provincial authorities began a “no safety, no promotion” campaign, which tied bureaucrats’ fates to accidental death rates.  In seven years the death rate dropped in half. But scholars who studied the figures found that local officials had gamed the system. People severely injured in traffic accidents were counted as accidental deaths if they died within seven days. Officials who arranged to have the victims kept alive for eight days improved their statistics.  Porter writes that U.S. hospitals have been known to do “whatever it takes” to keep fragile patients alive at least 31 days after an operation, to beat the Medicare 30-day survival yardstick.  Further, Porter writes, Chicago magazine found that the city was able to report a reduced crime rate because some incidents were reclassified as non-criminal.

American education has begun an experiment in incentive design, Porter says, in which  most states have established teacher evaluation systems based on gains their student make on standardized tests, along with some more conventional criteria such as evaluations by principals. The relevance of testing is based on sophisticated research.  A study by Columbia Professor Jonah Rokoff and two Harvard colleagues,  Raj Chetty and John Freidman,  found teachers who improved student test scores—called  high value added teachers—raised chances for student success in higher education and careers.  But heavy reliance on testing has been extremely controversial and generated heated debate about the impact on children, and about whether education becomes less meaningful if there is relentless focus on testing success.

Porter doesn’t take sides on specific matters of research and testing. But he says it’s a good idea to keep Goodbhart’s Law in mind because when the fate of individual teachers and schools depends on high stakes testing, the temptation for bad behavior is high.  Several districts across the country have been accused of blatant cheating on tests, and others have used more subtle manipulations to create illusions of improvement.  A recent New York Post story and Diane Ravitch’s blog showed state test scores artificially elevated by deletion of four questions large numbers of students got wrong or left blank.      

 

So will schools face massive unintended consequences as states institute more fully developed teacher evaluation systems?  Porter quotes educators who say while evaluations are necessary, any system needs to be examined for unintended consequences.  He quotes Professor Rockoff, who has defended the results of his own study, on preconditions for successful evaluations:  “The obvious answer is do not put too much weight on any single measure.”  Read Porter’s column here.

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Algoithms for Mastering Math

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, March 20, 2015

Innovations Need Experiments and Many Iterations

In a Brooklyn, N.Y. middle school,  three walls have been knocked down to create one giant classroom where four seventh grade math teachers circulate among 120 students. Four different learning areas are signified by shelving and different colored carpets and chairs. An airport style monitor just outside the door tells kids where to go.

The program, Teach to One, is designed to let each student learn at his or her own level, and master each skill before moving on to a next step.  Tina Rosenberg, in her New York Times column “Fixes,” notes that kids who have missed an essential math skill or concept in an early grade are likely to keep falling further behind in successive grades, eventually joining a permanent math underclass of students who find math incomprehensible.

This classroom combines many learning methods and activities with a range of sophistication. . Some children work at computers,  some use work sheets in groups, and some solve equations. The subjects include manipulating fractions and negative numbers, graphing expressions on a number line, and working out a multi-day probability project.  Some worksheets show wrong answers and ask students to identify the mistakes that led to them.

At the end of each session, student take a short quiz testing their mastery of the subject, letting student and teacher know the successes and deficits of the moment.  Rosenberg says the next step is the real innovation. Each student’s quiz is fed into an algorithm,  which produces the next day’s lesson for that student based on individual mastery, and even on what has been shown to be the best learning modality for the studentsuch as learning best with games, or liking to learn alone.  (Teachers get a preview and can override the computerized schedule if they think it necessary). The program identifies 77 math skills, and has a library of 12,000 lessons to teach them. Some lessons are created by staff, others bought from education companies.

Teach to One evolved from School of One, a math teaching program created by Joel Rose, an education expert, and Chris Rush, an educational consultant, both of  whom had worked for the New York City Department of Education. The two formed Classroom Innovation Partners, and Rosenberg reports the model is being used in 30 schools in New York, New Jersey, Washington DC, Georgia and North Carolina.  Early results have been very promising some schools and less so in others. The initiative has not been without controversy.

New Classrooms funded a study by scholars at Teachers College of Columbia University, to measure results. In the first year, math progress for Teach for One kids was about at the national average. The New York Daily News blasted the program as a pricy reject, and it was expensive. One school spent $140,000 on computers for every child.  Second year results were much more encouraging, with progress of the kids ranging from 47 percent to 60 percent above the national average. 

In a thoughtful piece in Forbes, Michael Horn wrote that innovations are rarely instant successes. Instead, he said, they tend to require messy experimentation with many modifications and iterations. Further, Horn wrote, formative evaluation that measures grade level achievement doesn’t identify nuanced individual progress of youngsters who have come from behind and those who have soared. He suggests the second year improvements indicate that earlier gaps in math knowledge may have been filled during that first year. A middle school in Charlotte Mecklenburg reports with enthusiasm on its program. Rosenberg calls it a work in progress worthy of continued use and experimentation. “School of One takes comprehensive advantage of technology in ways that let teachers concentrate on teaching,” she said.  “That’s worth getting right.”     

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Words that Heal and Reveal

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, March 13, 2015


In his early research career, Dr. James Pennebaker learned that keeping secrets is bad for your health. In fact, he and colleagues found, people who suffered traumas and kept them secret sought treatment for illnesses 40 percent more often than people who talked openly about their past adversities. But you don’t always have to tell the world.

Dr. Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a pioneer in studying  the healing use of language, found that adults who endured the suicide or sudden death of a spouse were healthier a year later if they had talked about it. Gays and lesbians who were open about their sexual status were healthier than those who kept it hidden. Over decades of studying how people dealt with traumas of all sorts—the death of loved ones, natural disasters, divorce, criminal assault, sexual traumas and the Holocaust—he looked at how we use language to process emotional devastation.  And he discovered that writing about deeply disturbing events—even if the writer showed no one else and destroyed the written account—improved the physical health and emotional resilience of those who wrote.

Those who benefit most, he explains, are able to construct a meaningful story of their experience, express more optimism as they acknowledge the worst, and change perspectives. In his newest book, Expressive Writing: Words that Heal, he tells how brief, simple writing exercises have helped people who put their traumas into words. Computer analysis showed many participants in the writing studies had fewer illnesses and improved immune function. Three studies showed higher student grades, possibly, he writes, because more working memory is available for present endeavors if we’ve detoxified past traumas so that we don’t have to be preoccupied with them.  

Dr. Pennebaker has spent decades exploring the power and significance of how we select, use and combine words. In his book The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us, Dr. Pennebaker examines function words, including pronouns, prepositions and articles, and made some surprising discoveries. He says our words are linguistic fingerprints and keys to the soul.

Pronouns yield profound insights. Scientists interviewed couples after one partner suffered a heart attack and asked them how they had coped and what they had done best.  The more the spouses used the we-words, that is we, us and our, in their answers the healthier the patients were six months later. We-words even impact safety. Researchers have found the most effective airline cockpit crews are close-knit and feel part of a team. In analyzing cockpit recordings of airlines that crashed, the ones clearly characterized by human error are associated with far fewer we-words than were used by the crews of planes that crashed because of unavoidable mechanical error.

Of course, Dr. Pennebaker notes, communal use of we differs greatly from the royal we, often employed by males of superior status, as in, “We need to analyze that data.” Pennebaker calls that the “we as you” use, in which the speaker is trying to be pleasant while issuing an order. There’s also a restrictive we, that means my friends and me, but not you, as in describing a joint activity that didn’t include the listener.

The first person singular holds many clues about mental health, outlook, and power. Analyzing the Twitter feeds of pregnant women, Microsoft computer scientists were able to accurately predict who would suffer postpartum depression. Indicators include increasing use of self-referential pronouns with growing self-focus.  In interaction between people, Dr.Pennebaker’s computer studies have shown, persons with higher social status uses fewer I words and people with lower social status use more I words.

Dr. Pennebaker says he always considered himself an egalitarian guy who treated everyone with the same respect, and he was surprised by a computer analysis of his own emails. In responding to his students, who used many I swords in their messages to him, Dr. Pennebaker rarely used I words. In an invitation to a famous professor he hoped would attend a conference, he used I words liberally.  

Pronouns also show shifting emotion and allegiance, Dr. Pennebaker found. When our favorite sports team is successful, we say “We won.” When the team goes down to defeat, we tend to say “They lost.”

If you’re interested in some self-insights, do some of Dr. Pennebaker’s exercises

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Should Advanced Practice Nurses Have More Authority?

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New Jersey Doctors and Nurses Spar Over Death Certificates

New Jersey legislators have passed a bill,  awaiting Gov. Chris Christie’s signature, that would allow  advanced practice nurses (APNs) to sign death certificates when a physician isn’t available.  APNs, who receive graduate training in diagnosing and treating illnesses, contend they are often closest to patients and best positioned to attend routine needs, and that broadening their scope will help address a growing need for primary healthcare providers. Doctors argue that giving more authority to APNs will lead to a decline in the quality of healthcare because physicians have more extensive training and education than APNs have. They also say team based healthcare should always be led by a physician. The legislature passed a similar measure a year ago, but it got a pocket veto from the governor.

 Read the NJ Spotlight story by Andrew  Kitchenman.

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When Death is a Technical Problem

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, March 06, 2015


How will the world change when human brains and computers can interact directly? “That’s the end of history, that’s the end of biology as we know it,” says Yuval Noah Harari, an author and historian. “Nobody has a clue what will happen.” If we break out of the organic realm into the vastness of the inorganic realm, he says, we can’t even imagine the consequences because our imaginations are organic.

Harari, a lecturer in history at Hebrew University and the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,  doesn’t predict any specific future, but does believe it’s the first time in history that our present knowledge and understanding are insufficient to give us a good idea of what coming decades will be like.  Harari discusses his ideas in an Edge.org conversation with Daniel Kahneman, recipient of a Nobel Prize in economics and ad the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

While the nineteenth and twentieth centuries featured egalitarian trends, with emerging power for large groups and mass movements, he suggests the possibility that twenty-first century may be more elitist with gaps between rich and poor individuals and countries wider than ever before. As technology replaces the need for large numbers of humans in the economy and the military, he says, the age of the masses is over.  He goes further. Throughout history, he says, intelligence and consciousness were a combined human quality; when computers can drive cars and diagnose diseases better than humans, the two are “decoupled.” Intelligence is what’s needed to run things, consciousness isn’t, and large numbers of people become unnecessary.

He cites medicine as an example of unprecedented change beset with uncertainties. Medicine of the last two centuries has focused on healing the sick, which he calls an egalitarian enterprise, while recent medical trends are to upgrade the healthy, which he says has elitist potential.  Throughout history, he says, death was the great equalizer. In the Middle Ages, people summoned by the Angel of Death had no choice. They died. But he says a revolutionary change in thinking has transformed death and disease from metaphysical problems to technical problems. Technical things can be fixed, and the privileged are likely to get the best fixes.

 Kahneman asked the social implications of a potential for mass unemployment, anger, unrest, and large numbers of people who could become economically and militarily superfluous. .

Harari said the industrial revolution—and all revolutionary change—has brought about the emergence of new classes of people, and with them new political and social issues that take time to settle. In his view, the biggest political and social question of coming decades may be what happens to people who become unnecessary. “I don’t think we have an economic model for that,” Harari says. People don’t like boredom, and they want meaning in their lives; Harari thinks many may try to solve those inner needs with computer games and drugs.  People are focused on ISIS and the Middle East he observes, but the most interesting place in the world today is Silicon Valley, not only for technology, but for the ideas and trends with emerge with it.  Read this provocative conversation here.

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Can Literature in Lock Up Reduce Recidivism?

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, March 02, 2015


 

Free Minds is a prison book club started 13 years ago by Tara Libert and Kelli Taylor, former journalists who believed that reading good books, discussing them, and putting private thoughts into prose and poetry could help prisoners change their lives during incarceration and after release.


 

In a Washington Post story by Robert Samuels, three club members in their 20s, recently released after years behind bars in Washington, D.C., tell how reading and writing helped them turn their lives around. All three began getting in trouble in their early teens. They were charged with serious crimes, tried as adults, convicted and sentenced to lengthy terms. According to a 2007 report by the CDC, juveniles tried as adults are 34 percent more likely than youth tried as juveniles to return to prison.


 

Adult recidivism rates are also discouraging. The Bureau of Justice Statistics tracked 404,638 state prisoners from 30 states who were released between 2005 and 2010 and found more than two thirds of them were re-arrested within three years of their release and more than three quarters were re-arrested within five years. Studies showed the most perilous time for getting into trouble was in prisoners' first year getting out of prison.


 Many teachers and researchers think reading and discussing literature can help people convicted of crimes develop empathy, expand their horizons and reflect on their own lives. An Urban Institute report found prisoners who took post secondary education reoffended at significantly lower rates.
Robert Waxler, an English professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Jean Trounstine, professor of humanities at Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts, co-founded Changing Lives Through Literature. Trounstine taught literature and writing at a high security women's prison, and eventually directed women inmates in their own plays based on classic themes. Waxler, concerned that our culture seems to marginalize literature, convinced a judge to sentence male offenders aged 18 through 44 to a literature course rather than jail. Individual changes were encouraging and the program grew. Early evaluations showed literature students had a 19 percent re-arrest rate compared with a 45 percent re-arrest rate for a control group of similar offenders. Authors studied included Jane Austen, Jack London, Earnest Hemingway, Maocolm X, and Shakespeare.

 

Many prisons lack libraries, and The Prisoners Literature Project has been sending books to inmates for years. A Capitol Hill Times story by Leigh Ann Smith notes the strong relationship between literature and incarceration-Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote when he was behind bars. The story describes the work of Seattle-based Books to Prisoners, which sends thousands of books to incarcerated people in Washington and across the country. A note from a grateful recipient, quoted in the story, read, "Books allow us to live vicariously, to feel, to acknowledge, emotions that have much scar tissue.

 

The three young members of Free Minds spoke at a Washington D.C high school, not only to warn about the consequences of their own wrong turns, but to read memoirs and poems they had written and tell students of the comfort and wisdom they found in books. Nathan McCall's Makes Me Wanna Holler was a favorite. Reading together also created relationships that became a support network for life and job hunting after jail. When a skeptical student asked why a former offender had let himself succumb to chaos rather than taking charge of his life, the  young man replied, "you have a good head on your shoulders." The Free Minds website has several success stories. One offender had been incarcerated at 12, another had done time in solitary. Another, Antwan, talked about maintaining optimism, saying, "Shoot for the moon. If you miss you're still gonna land among the stars. ".

 

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Small Acts Matter

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, February 20, 2015

For the Future of Democracy and the Planet, Small Acts Matter

 

Mass movements and big social changes, whether they are to topple dictators or protect the environment, often start with carefully planned small actions.

 

The huge demonstrations in Egypt’s Tahrir Square that culminated in the ouster of Hosni Mubarak were the result of two years of careful planning and hard work, Tina Rosenberg writes in her New York Times column “Fixes.” They weren’t just a spontaneous happening. Mass demonstrations aren’t the beginning of a movement, she writes, they’re the victory lap.

 

Rosenberg describes the work of Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic, leaders of Otpor, a Serbian student movement that aided the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. The two founded the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), an organization devoted to training activists committed to nonviolent ways of achieving democracy and human rights. Otpor, Rosenberg writes, began with 11 people and grew to 70,000 in two years, starting with a few activists who staged humorous anti-Milosevic street theater.  Popovic calls that “laughtivism,” and says one of Otpor’s guiding spirits was Monty Python.  Humor can puncture the invincibility of authority.

 

When Turkish officials inveighed against kissing in the Ankara subway,  Popovic has written by way of example,  100 protesters gathered the subway in pairs, kissed mightily, and carried signs advertising free kisses. Police were surprised and lawmakers were prompted to wonder who had the right to ban kissing.

 

Popovic and Djinovic have trained nonviolent activists in 46 countries, and have been invited to lecture and teach at several American colleges, including Grinnell, Harvard, Columbia, NYU and Rutgers. They say nonviolence is not only morally superior to brutality, but it’s really the only tool small groups have against raw power.  Dictators are good at violence, they assert, so advocates for democracy can’t compete in the same way. They have to think strategically and start small.  

 

Burmese who attended a CANVAS workshop knew a big demonstration for political goals would be dangerous. So they organized to get the Yangon government to collect garbage. In a similar vein, Gandhi began a massive civil protest against the British Salt Tax. CANVAS also teaches the value of “tactics of dispersal,” such as coordinated pot banging and traffic in which everyone drives at half speed. They show widespread support, which encourages larger participation.  

 

 The Earth Day Network’s A Million Acts of Green describes individual actions, large and small, that can impact the environment.  And if you think individual acts don’t matter much, watch the FutureEnvironment.Org YouTube presentation on how atmospheric pollutants could be reduced by millions of tons if one percent of the population left some lights burning for five fewer minutes.

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What Makes a Better Team? More Women

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, February 12, 2015
The teams with the smartest members aren't necessarily the smartest teams.

Researchers who teamed up with Alex Pentland and Nada Hashmi of MIT grouped 697 volunteers into teams with two to five members and studied how they performed several short tasks that required such common skills as logical analysis, brainstorming, planning, coordination and moral reasoning. Volunteers took individual IQ tests, but teams with the highest average IQs weren't necessarily the most successful. Nor were the teams with most extroverts nor the most highly motivated members.

The most successful teams with the best collective intelligence, it turned out, had three characteristics. Their members contributed equally to group discussions rather than having a few members who dominated. Teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. And the most successful teams had members who scored highest on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes. That test is designed to measure how well people can read emotional states by looking at facial images that only show the eyes. The study is described in a New York Times story by researchers Anita Woolley, Thomas W. Malone, and Christopher F. Chabris.

An Atlantic story by Derek Thompson stresses the importance empathy and social sensitivity. Generally, the story says, women outperform men on the Eyes test, which helps explain why teams with more women tend to have higher collective intelligence. Elements of that trait include an ability to read complex emotions and skill at interpreting nonverbal clues.

Interestingly, another study showed that good collective intelligence was just as important for teams working virtually as it is for teams working face to face. A study by Woolley, Malone, Chabris, David Engel and Lisa X. Jing in PLoS One examined teams that worked together face to face and teams that worked virtually. Emotion reading skill was just as important in the success of online teams. The other characteristics that helped in person teams-frequent good quality conversation and equal participation-also were crucial online.

Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless wrote the book The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures and created the Liberating Structures website, which describes simple methods to improve the way we meet, interact and collaborate. Lipmanowicz says the use of Liberating Structures (LS) can help people learn the communication, participation and emotion reading skills that create good teamwork. While traditional paths to learning these skills is slow, expensive and unreliable, Lipmanowicz says, people who experience using LS can learn them quickly.

Are you skilled at reading emotions? Take the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test here. Read some thoughts on the test here.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  liberating structures  research 

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