It’s like we finish each others sentences! (is that a good thing?)

April 9, 2009 at 9:24 am

| Gabriel |

A meta-analysis just published in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that teams are more effective when they share non-redundant information but that paradoxically they tend to spend most of their time discussing what is already common knowledge in the group. This is interesting but both findings seem very congruent with findings and theory from sociology and economics.

In one of the most famous sociology articles ever, Granovetter argued that weak ties are powerful precisely because they provide non-redundant info. (In contrast strong ties usually promote triadic closure, and by extension, redundant information).

Likewise, in the first article to provide a positive feedback explanation for the superstar effect in cultural markets, Moshe Adler said that fandom is a coordination problem in that fandom is more fun if its a shared experience where the fans can discuss the nuances of the artwork or artist. (All the jargon about addiction goods makes the article kind of alien to sociologists, but that’s the gist of it).

So Granovetter told us 36 years ago that non-redundant information is really important and Adler told us 24 years ago that people like to talk about their shared interests and experiences. Both articles have a lot of similar findings following from them but this is the first thing I can think of that highlights the irony of taking their conclusions together. I think the reason it’s ironic can be shown by other research, mostly in the sociology of science but also in the sociology of culture that shows that creative breakthroughs tend to come from circles rather than isolated intellectuals. The reason is that like so many things, creativity is a Goldilocks problem, if you’re too redundant you get stale but if you’re not redundant enough it’s too hard to coordinate. If so this suggests that the meta-analysis make be restricting it’s analysis to a certain part of the range (or a certain class of problems) and that a broader focus might show the values of some redundancy for promoting innovation.

(btw, the article doesn’t cite Granovetter, Adler, or anything similar like “birds of a feather,” the parallels I’m drawing are my own).

h/t Marginal Revolution

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