Hire friendly, not smart?

If you want your business to succeed, you hire really super-smart people, right?

MIT suggests not necessarily so. A recent study of “collective intelligence” explored what it takes to build teams most likely to succeed at solving problems. MIT found that individual IQ, that thing we all like to believe we have so much of, mattered far less than the ability of the group to perform functions such as clarifying the challenge, brainstorming, making “collective moral judgments,” and structuring limited resources. Group camaraderie, and not individuals’ IQs, was the greatest input required for success.

MIT called this the “C factor” for collective intelligence and noted that women tend to have more of it. Women, by nature, have less testosterone, which in high levels can lead to emotional, impulsive or illogical decisions (“I’m right!” “We must do this!”) and depresses sensitivity to others, often required to really digest all the data inputs to solve thorny problems. The study suggests that so-called “social sensitivity” would be a better prerequisite for hiring staff and managers than super-smart IQ, and that more women in groups — still, often missing in some business settings — leads to higher collective intelligence.

MIT found several things any group can do better to increase collective IQ:

– Avoid having a single smart person dominate the discussion.
– Get everyone in the room to participate.
– Watch nonverbal communication as well; individuals may signal they are confident or impatient or frustrated, and those are all elements that can be drawn out to improve the group’s decision — what does the confident person know, or why does the frustrated person believe the team is on the wrong track?

It’s an intriguing concept, that what makes one individual burn bright (aggression and brains) could increase the odds that a team will fail, while friendliness drives success. Obviously strong leaders are needed and can thrive; Apple and Steve Jobs may be the best case study. Yet powerful leaders and bright people might crank up their empathy a bit and assess whether the dynamic of their supporting groups is friendly enough to allow the best chance for success.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Image: Paco CT

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