Smarts vs. Diversity of Opinions

We’ve all been part of a group charged with coming to a single decision.  They’re often unpleasant for the very reasons they exist: multiple viewpoints and interpretations of the situation that need to be aired and reconciled (or not).  No one loves dealing with conflicting opinions, let alone doing so with personal and political relationships in play, but that’s the cost of doing business at high levels of an organization.

But what’s truly fascinating is which factors make improve the quality of  the group outcome.  So if you could choose only one of three things to improve a team’s success, which would you choose?

  1. To add a strong-willed, powerful personality
  2. To add an absolute genius
  3. To add a female

A recent study showed that including a female was the single best way to improve the total quality of the outcome, which outweighed adding smarts to the team.  (Interestingly, adding the strong-willed personality tended to decrease performance.)  The interpretation was that the key factors were “social sensitivity and the ability to make inferences,” skills typically stronger in women.

I think this reflects the current state of Business Decision Analytics- adding more smarts in the form of analytical approach, methodology, or data, may indeed be helpful, but it’s not where the most help is needed.  As an example, I was once given a mandate to improve business performance through better pricing at a large US retailer.

As expected, I was constantly challenged with how to allocate very scarce team resources.  With some fairly straightforward analytics we were able to shed some light on the market forces at hand.  So while it drove my PhDs around the bend as we continued to use simple-to-execute though somewhat imprecise analytical tools, we focused on educating the user community, not improving the math.  In fact, the largest obstacle to that mandate was not whether we could squeeze the last few percentage points out of the math, but rather how to bring the product merchants to a level of understanding and trust so that they could incorporate the insights into their pricing decisions.

PS: That team was also blessed with one of the strongest female managers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.