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The MIT Study
Professors Anita Woolley and John Malone of MIT were interviewed by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) in June of 2011 about a study they conducted on group intelligence. First, participants in ages ranging from 18 to 60 were given “standard intelligence tests” and then randomly assigned to teams.
Woolley and Malone found those groups with more women fared better than those of a more diverse group—and they completed this study twice just in case it was a fluke. I guess that was Prof. John Malone’s idea, he probably couldn’t believe it!
In the June issue of HBR, their study results were revealed in an article, “Defend Your Research: What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women.”
Before all you men out there go off on a tangent on why you’re better and so on, what’s the difference between collective intelligence and IQ?
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Collective Intelligence vs. IQs
Dictionary.com says of collective intelligence that it is “a phenomenon in sociology where a shared or group intelligence emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals.” As far as IQs go, remember all those tests we took in grade school? Those pretty much revealed our IQs or what I truly believe an IQ is—the simple ability to learn something faster if your IQ is high compared to someone who isn’t so lucky to be on the upper IQ scale. For example, a person with an IQ of 140 will genrally learn how to solve a puzzle faster than a person with an IQ of 100.
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Ginger Rogers – Tougher Than Fred Astaire
I always loved that quote about Ginger Rogers when comparing her dancing skills to those of Fred Astaire, “Ginger Rogers does everything Fred Astaire does, only backwards in high heels!” The first time I heard that quote, I knew my sex made me destined to be better.
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Why Women Are Better
In the Woolley/Malone study, it was pointed out the fairer sex is “more sensitive,” meaning they are more willing to listen and learn from another’s opinions or suggestions. Men of the A-typical personality with high IQs were found to be more aggressive as leaders of the group, meaning essentially, “It’s my way or the highway.” Typical, huh?
Malone pointed out in the HBR interview that the best teams have always worked well together—he uses sports teams as an analogy. But, this new study does reveal that if you want a project to run smoothly, especially if you have a lot of brainstorming and focus groups, find yourself a bunch of women.
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My Real Life Example
Years ago, when my husband and I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, we had a boat (many do) and two of our favorite married couples also had boats. It was traditional for the six of us to head up to Saguaro Lake to spend the weekends talking, playing horseshoes, fishing and water skiing.
Each weekend the same thing happened and it always involved the three husbands. When it came time to stop water skiing and settle in to talk and eat, the men always wanted to tie the three boats together so we could easily jump from boat to boat and visit. This always took (and I’m not kidding) at least one hour, sometimes more.
Before you say, we must have dingbat husbands, all the men were in the auto industry with either bachelor’s or master’s degrees and worked for the Chrysler Corporation. Of the women, I was an HR Director, another wife worked as an adjuster for State Farm Insurance and the third was an office manager at a doctor’s office. We all had college degrees as well.
I don’t know each of their IQ levels but when it came to brainstorming on how to tie these three boats together, the men seemed to totally lose all common sense.
"How many buoys do we need?"
"But we have three boats of different lengths—don’t we need more?"
"Do we have enough anchors?"
The buoy topic was always dropped as the men pulled nylon water ropes of all lengths and starting tossing them at one another—more often than not, missing or slapping each other by accident.
The men would start standing, two on one end of one boat and the other on the same end of another boat. As they pulled and tugged—you guessed it—one end of the boat would indeed fall alongside the other. However, the other end of the boat flowed outward, sort of a “V” effect.
One of the men would charge to the open V section and try to correct the mistake, usually falling in the water.
The rope throwing, pulling and tying lasted at least half an hour. The discussion and placing of buoys took about fifteen minutes and because men are men, ropes had to be rechecked and rechecked to ensure they were tight.
We women on the other hand, stayed below in the cuddy cabin of the biggest boat, in cool air-conditioned comfort and laughed at the men along with spending some great quality time.
I kid you not—this happened every single time we all took the trip to Saguaro Lake.
On a side note, one weekend, while the men were fishing, we women tied the boats together in fifteen minutes.
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Teams of Women
Even Prof. Malone suggests, “The standard argument is that diversity is good and you should have both men and women in a group. But so far, the data shows, the more women, the better.”
The MIT study also found women score higher on social sensitivity, constructive criticism and, on the average, didn’t possess an autocratic leadership style.
This makes sense and building teams of women will achieve desired results faster because they are willing to collectively share, embrace one another and even mentor those who are shy in group situations.
Sure a top IT guy with tons of experience and a high IQ and years of knowledge in the industry may run an IT project better, but if he needs effective input and decision-making, he’d be better off hiring a team of women.
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There are women who do fall into the autocratic leadership style—both Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey come to mind. More than not, however, most autocratic leaders, are men and demanding teams to complete projects with strict rules and no creativity never really works well.
Of course I could go on and on about how more effective teams full of women will be more successful, but I don’t want to offend the male gender too much.
On the other hand, I’d love to hear from both men and women who have worked on diverse teams or same sex teams. Do you agree all women teams are better or do you feel this MIT study on IQs, collective intelligence and general qualities of females is just another study of no real importance?
Yep, I’m a female and I want to hear from you. I promise you have a boat-tying story similar to mine.
- Dictionary.com – Collective Intelligence Definition
- Woolley/Malone – Harvard Business Review – “Defend Your Research: What Makes a Team Smarter? More Women" Accessed August 19 2011.
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