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February 07, 2012
High DT

Another old theme here has been divergent thinking since Cosma Shalizi clued me to the work of Scott Page and Lu Hong: Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers. It came out at the time that James Surowiecki's The Wisdom Of Crowds: Why The Many Are Smarter Than The Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies, and Nations was being widely discussed.

Surowiecki made the important points that there had been a lot of fuzzy thinking about the meaning of collective intelligence, networks, and interactions. His notion of "collective" was not the same as the common use of that word. It wasn't about mobs goose-stepping to a shared vision, rather it was more of an aggregation of the thinking of a a large group of people reflecting diverse opinions offering judgments independently of one another with little communication among them. Diversity and independence are crucial to crowd wisdom. Consensus is not a goal. Agreement is not wise.

But crowd wisdom has limits and is not an appropriate tool for all problems. True group problem solving is something else again, and Surowiecki noted the work of Page in which he did computer simulations of agents competing with one another. Based on their performance Page separated the dumb from the smart agents. He then formed three groups: smart, dumb and random. As you should suspect the smart group beat the dumb group, but the random group composed of both smart and dumb agents of every rank beat them both.

Why? True group problem solving involves communication and learning. Too much communication and information cascades ruin wise crowds as well as some problem solving groups, in effect dumbing them down. The old saying is that a group of smart people can enter a conference room together and come out stupid. A key to smart group performance is heuristic diversity. If what the group members are communicating and learning from one another are diverse perspectives on the problem then they all increase the size and scope of their mental toolset and in effect become smarter.

So, to form a smart group problem solving team the selection criteria isn't just about intelligence as measured by IQ, it is also about divergent thinking. The value of a member to the team is contextual: what do they bring to the team that wasn't already there?

In those old posts I speculated about how to determine heuristic diversity in some formal way. Those with experience in forming ad-hoc, task oriented project teams have done these things intuitively for decades, so the concepts aren't really novel, but it was art rather than science. It was informal, a peculiar talent of successful project leaders. Progress is being made now to develop more formal methods.

Whatever this [IQ] test is really measuring, one thing is for sure: this is a test of convergent thinking. Your answer must converge with what the test maker came up with. Contrast this type of thinking with divergent thinking, in which you have to come up with problems to solve in the first place because there is no single correct answer. How does this -- more creative -- form of thinking relate to the type of thinking measured by IQ tests?

Researchers have attempted to get at the answer to that question -- reporting on average a small correlation between convergent thinking tests and divergent thinking tests. ...

What does this all mean? It means that IQ-type reasoning is only one slice of the creativity pie. The highest levels of creativity require both convergent thinking and divergent thinking. This idea has long been known in creativity research. According to the well known Geneplore model, creativity involves a cyclical process of generating ideas and then systematically working out which ideas are most fruitful and implementing them. The generation stage is thought to involve divergent thinking whereas the exploration stage is thought to involve convergent thinking.

That post referenced this study:
There is disagreement among researchers about whether IQ tests or divergent thinking (DT) tests are better predictors of creative achievement. Resolving this dispute is complicated by the fact that some research has shown a relationship between IQ and DT test scores (e.g., Runco & Albert, 1986; Wallach, 1970). The present study conducted meta-analyses of the relationships between creative achievement and both IQ and DT test scores. The analyses included 17 studies (with 5,544 participants) that established the correlation coefficients between IQ and creative achievement and 27 studies (with 47,197 participants) that established the correlation coefficients between DT test scores and creative achievement. Marginal, but statistically significant, Fisher’s Z-transformed correlation coefficients were revealed. The analysis found a significantly higher relationship between DT test scores and creative achievement (r = .216) than between IQ test scores and creative achievement (r = .167). The differences in the correlation coefficients were explained by differences in DT tests, creative achievement types, predicted time periods, and creativity subscales. The significant independent moderator effect for different DT tests indicates that the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) predict creative achievement better than any other DT test included in this study. Among the creative achievement types, music is predicted the best by IQ and all others are predicted best by DT tests. Among the time periods evaluated, the relationship between DT test scores and creative achievement had the highest correlation at the period of 11-15 years.
Though this study was focused on individual creativity, the thinking can perhaps be applied to the task of forming heuristically diverse problem solving groups. Divergent thinking and heuristic diversity aren't quite the same thing. You could have a group composed of convergent thinkers who had diverse heuristics. But I suspect that there may be a larger percentage of divergent thinkers among the heuristically diverse, and that maintaining heuristic diversity relative to a communicating and learning problem solving group would require divergent thinking.

That old post speculated that one way to identify heuristic diversity might be to administer IQ tests and select a team that collectively scored highest. What one member got wrong another got right and together they are better than individually. It wouldn't be a team composed of the smartest individuals, it would be composed of a complementary set of measured skills. In practice this might mean that none of the team members were exceptionally smart but that the team would be brilliant.

Adding DT and creativity tests might provide more information for team member selection. Having some divergent thinkers on the team who were also heuristically diverse could be beneficial. A team leader that was both high IQ and high DT might be important for maintaining group cohesion and progress.

Posted by back40 at 10:04 AM |

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A great book that talks about divergent thinking and much more about creativity is Explaining Creativity, by Keith Sawyer. He gathers several theories about creativity and brain hemispheres. Just a tip!

Posted by: {Henrique|Henrique Fogli|Creative Gibberish|Divergent Thinking} at February 24, 2012 05:00 PM

His links page looks rich.

Posted by: back40 at February 24, 2012 09:04 PM
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