People know more than they think they do, study finds

Group of Utah business students involved in problem solving exercise. Credit: David Eccles School of Business.

(Medical Xpress) -- The process of melding individuals into effective, problem-solving groups should involve empowering individuals to realize they have important ideas to share.

Dr. Bryan Bonner, an associate professor at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, believes the first step to building successful organizations is deceptively simple: self-realization by each participant of his or her unique knowledge and experience.

Bonner co-authored “Leveraging Member Expertise to Improve Knowledge Transfer and Demonstrability in Groups” with Dr. Michael Baumann, an associate professor of Psychology at the University of Texas in San Antonio. The study, published in February’s edition of the , concludes that “for groups to be successful, they must exploit the knowledge of their (individual) members effectively.”

“It doesn’t take much. All you have to do is have people sit there for a while and think, ‘What is it I already know about this, and how can that help find the solution?’” Bonner says. “People find they often know more than they think they do; they realize that they might not know the whole answer to the problem, but there are a couple things they do know that might help the group come to a solution.”

The researchers used 540 University of Utah undergraduate students, assigning half to three-member groups on one hand, with the remaining 270 participants working as individuals. Their task: arriving at estimates closest to the correct answers to such questions as the elevation of Utah’s King’s Peak; the weight of the heaviest man in history; the population of Utah; and the minimum driving distance between Salt Lake City and New York City.

“We solve problems by using the many examples, good and bad, we’ve gathered through hard-won experience throughout our lives. The problem is that we’re not nearly as good at applying old knowledge to new problems as you’d think,” Bonner says. “Research over more than a century has tried, without much success, to figure out how we can do a better job.”

Bonner and Baumann, however, are convinced their study shows that “although the sheer amount of brainpower it takes to consistently and effectively transfer learning from old to new is beyond many individuals, groups of people working together can actually be very good at it.”

The answers to those study questions? Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah, is 13,528 feet above sea level; the heaviest man of all time was 1,400 pounds; Utah’s population, at the time of the study, was 2,389,039; and the shortest route between Salt Lake City and New York City is 2,174.41 miles.

More information: To read the paper, visit:

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Mar 28, 2012
I guess...if you define "knowledge" as estimating weights and distances...kind like the circus...
Mar 28, 2012
You can always rely on a committee to find the lowest common denominator.
Mar 28, 2012
Again, an "experiment" designed to "prove" what the "researchers" want to "prove". Basically, what they really want to do is convey the idea of corporate assigned teams respecting everyone's opinion and inevitably arriving at the most intelligent solution. So they provide a task for the teams that has nothing to do what what real teams usually do, namely, frame a strategy in a novel situation! When you're guessing at already established facts, one form of interaction takes place, emphasizing the impression of knowledge on the part of every member. In most cases, though, such teams operate by the most conniving smarming their way around at least most others to the position of "head" and "only" member, then proceeds to promote the most underhanded way to success, taking sole credit for any acxtual thinking demonstrated.
Mar 28, 2012
In most cases, though, such teams operate by the most conniving smarming their way around at least most others to the position of "head" and "only" member, then proceeds to promote the most underhanded way to success, taking sole credit for any acxtual thinking demonstrated.

Oh, you're talking about lawyers!!!
Mar 28, 2012
In fact, the description doesn't apply just to lawyers, it's fairly epidemic throughout the corporate world today, from accountant firms to advertising to product design to tasked groups within individual industries. The "team player" mentality in corporations today is overtly designed to eliminate individual thought, even if they are the one with the unalterably right answer, and encourages the emergence of a team leader, ordering his underlings around. The fact that, frankly, products today are horrendous compared to years ago shows quality is not as important in the corporate world as just developing a powerful collection of cronies and this permits those already in power to isolate those who are craven enough fo them to work with. It identifies them, displays their character and gives them an extra layer to work through before being accepted.
Apr 01, 2012
I find that generally there are two types of people - those who know little, but are constantly bragging about how much they know, and then there are those who know a lot, but refuse to admit how much they know.

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