The More The Merrier?

Are we better off working in large groups or on our own?

Who might this interest? Everyone – because we all need to work, think and plan. Are we better off thinking and planning on our own or doing it as a group, maybe a very large group? And what about taking action – actually doing things – are we better off on our own or as part of a large group? If you are a business owner, a director, team leader – are you and the individual members of your team best left to work on their own, or should they be encouraged to work as a group? What if you are on your own – perhaps you are self employed or you run a home –  does that put you at an advantage or a disadvantage?
Obviously I can’t cover all aspects of this challenge here, but I simply offer a case each for working as a group and working on your own … to get the debate started. Clearly there are arguments both ways; both are right. Some people may prefer one to the other; or we may be better doing things on our own under certain circumstances, and better in a group under other circumstances. I merely want to encourage you to think about what works best for you and those around you. Of course, as ever, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Enjoy!

On your own …

Focus and lack of distraction.
One clear advantage is that when we work on our own we are not subject to the disruptions that can be caused by having other people around us. Our flow of thought is allowed to travel in one mind (using both our conscious and subconscious mind) till it reaches a point of clarity, and maybe even reach new learning and insights. As long as we don’t distract ourselves (and we all know how easy that can be) we can use the immense power of both our conscious and subconscious minds to flow and focus on the issue at hand.
Pushing our personal thinking to new limits.  
Some of man’s greatest thinking and inventions have come from a single individual, rather than from a group of people working together. I am not suggesting that all great thinking comes from single individuals, because many of our greatest advances have come from magnificent teamwork. I am stating however that some great work has come people working on their own. An example would be Nicephore Niepce, who one summer’s day in 1827, made the first photographic image with a camera obscura. Prior to Niepce, people just used the camera obscura for viewing or drawing purposes not for making photographs. His heliographs (or sun prints as they were called) were the prototype for the modern photograph, by letting light draw the picture. He spent years principally on his own working to find the right chemical combinations to capture the image. I was fortunate enough to visit his home In France a few weeks ago.

Or as a species, do humans instinctively choose to have relationships and social interactions? Or are these basic needs that we have to satisfy? And yet, we are not all they same; some people prefer solitude, whilst others seem to need company.
Under which circumstances do you work better on your own?
And under which circumstances do you work better in a group?
I would love to hear your thoughts please. Your feedback and ideas are welcome!
Or if you would like support to use this choice to your advantage – simply call me.

As a group …

Ultimate Swarms
I was fortunate enough to watch a fabulous BBC documentary on Monday evening (available on iPlayer) called Ultimate Swarms presented by George McGavin. He talked about the “wisdom of the crowd phenomena”. A great example was where 60 million red crabs, who normally live underground, all simultaneously leave their habitat to survive. By using a form of sugar reserve, they walk 6 miles in a week across this volcanic island in the Indian Ocean, towards the sea where the females, each carrying 100 thousand eggs,  discharges them at one particular moment of the tide. The adults have to be careful in the low water margin as they can drown. The result is the release of about 3 trillion eggs, most of whom do not survive – but several years later swarms of maturing crabs return from the sea to the same spot. Amazing! What makes them do that? How do they communicate this behaviour? He gave many other examples of amazing mass action in nature.
How might nature teach us humans to do things better?
Let me quote from an interesting article from The Independent review the next day: When we act like a swarm – in other words, when we “think collectively” – humans, like their natural world counterparts, often achieve better results than they would as individuals, though of course mob mentality can also lead to chaotic disorder (in football stadiums, in street riots, just like the water buffalo that panic when a cheetah attacks them). Simple experiments found that an ordinary crowd guessing the weight of something results in a far more accurate estimate than a single expert’s. Contestants on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? should note: “asking the audience” wins over “calling a friend”, however big-brained that friend may be.The big surprise was the relationship between collective decision-making and individual action in different swarms. Some infected others with their contagious emotions and thoughts so that the swarm thought as “one mind” in a united response (think of the panicking water buffalo, for instance), while in other swarms such as leafcutter ant colonies, there were no leaders as such, and each ant did their own thing to make the swarm run smoothly. Bees, while they have a queen, delegate “house-hunting” duties to scouts who go out to find a nice, south-facing hive.

McGavin’s point was not that we should observe group animal behaviour for the sake of good television, but that we can – and do – learn from it. We even imitate it, either in our organisation of airports, for example, when mass passages of travel replicate the smooth running of migrating swarms, or in artificial intelligence. Robots, he said, were now using “swarm intelligence”, as was airport computer software.
Using lessons from nature, he gave the example of how we control traffic better at peak times through managing speeds to produce a less disrupted flow.
Under what circumstances can we make better decisions as a group?

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