Campus & Community

Groups, like people, can be intelligent

1 min read

Education professor probes organizational intelligence

Few of us work or learn completely alone. And almost all of us who work in groups – offices, project teams, committees, classrooms – could do it better. Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor David Perkins puts forth his observations and suggestions in the new book “King Arthur’s Round Table: How Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organizations” (John Wiley & Sons, 2003). Organizational intelligence can be elusive, Perkins says. It’s far easier for a group of people to pool physical effort than it is for them to effectively combine their mental energy. He illustrates this point with what he calls the “lawn mower paradox”: 10 people with lawn mowers can handily mow a lawn much faster than one, yet it’s far more difficult for the same 10 people to design a lawn mower. “Many physical tasks divide up into chunks very nicely,” he says, but not so with intellectual duties. “It’s pretty hard to say, ‘Let’s make a decision together: you take part A of the decision, I take part B of the decision.’” Realistically, 10 minds will not design that lawn mower with the same efficiency their 10 bodies trimmed the lawn.