4/9/2008 - “Science is no longer done by great people like Madame Curie sitting alone on a bench,” said author, University of Michigan professor and Kellogg graduateScott Page ’93. “It’s done in teams.”
Page visited the Kellogg School on April 4 to discuss findings outlined in his latest book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies
. One reason the lone-genius model of scientific achievement is passé, he said, is that the best scientists have come to appreciate the potential of diverse teams to solve difficult problems.
Page’s address at the Donald P. Jacobs Center was the first in a new speaker series sponsored by Kellogg School’s Interdisciplinary Center on the Science of Diversity
. Center Co-chair Katherine Phillips
said Page’s visit helped further the center’s goal of increasing the quality and quantity of dialogue on diversity.
“There’s a lack of conversation across disciplines,” said Phillips, also an associate professor of management and organizations at Kellogg. “The psychologists are not normally getting together and discussing these issues with the political scientists.”
Page said he hopes his research, which explains mathematically how and why diverse teams tend to out-perform homogenous ones, will challenge the popular notion that diversity in teams is merely a nice idea. If achievement in science, business or academia is a cake, he said, “we think of diversity as the feel-good, multi-colored sprinkles on top. ”But his research indicates that the “warm-fuzzy” notion that everyone’s perspective is unique and valuable — more like the flour that holds the cake together — “is actually mathematically true.”
“Instead of thinking of people as having IQs,” he said,“I think of them as having bundles of tools.” An IQ test, he explained, is a good measure of a certain kind of intelligence: People who score well on IQ tests have bundles of tools good for working on the kinds of problems that appear on IQ tests. But a group of people in which every member has a high IQ — and thus the same bundle of tools — won’t be as resilient as a group of people with more varied scores and toolsets.
Each member brings certain biases and ways of understanding to the group, said Page, and these tools determine the way members approach problems: If, like Vermont’s Ben and Jerry’s, an ice cream company charted its sales figures with ice cream flavors arranged according to a single criterion (the size and frequency of “chunks” in each flavor), management might miss important patterns that would be plainly visible if only the flavors were arranged differently — by calories-per-serving, for example.
Page cited other historic examples of creative group problem-solving, including the ingenuity of the Apollo 13 crew and the breakthrough observation that eventually resulted in a vaccine for smallpox (someone noticed that milkmaids weren’t getting sick). Following his presentation, he took questions from the audience.
The next speaker in the ICSD speaker series
will be Yale psychology professor John Dovidio, who will discuss "Racism Among the Well-Intentioned" at the Jacobs Center on April 28. On May 15, Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect
, will speak about the relationship between diversity and innovation. Rounding out the inaugural lecture series will be Joan Williams, professor of law at the University of California’s Hastings College, who on June 2 will discuss the sociological, psychological and legal aspects affecting professional women.