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“The Hive” by James Surowiecki

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    In the essays, “Committees, Juries, and Teams: The Columbia Disaster and How Small Groups Can Be Made to Work,” and “The Hive” shows the ways to properly run a small group and how to get the correct and best results. The two essays also say what to avoid when working in a small group; for example how to avoid group polarization and why that is detrimental to small groups. The essay by James Surowiecki also explains to avoid a type of dictator in the small group, someone who is the main mouthpiece to the group and why that is a negative aspect to have in a small group. The two essays show the pros and cons of working in small groups, both authors show that if the people with in the group do not work properly together the outcome the group is working towards can be deficient. Both authors also show that if the small group works well together and abides by certain rules, the group can have a positive and efficient effect on the problem the group is working towards, like having cognitive diversity in a group.

    Or another positive thing to have in a small group is equality. The authors touch on the dos and don’ts of a small group environment, when following closely to these suggestions small groups can do the job they were meant to do correctly.

    One of the main topics James Surowiecki concentrates on is, “group polarization.” This is when a few members of the small group takes a side on the extreme opposites. Some of the group might be on the extreme yes side, while others are on the extreme no side. Surowiecki touches on the downfalls of group polarization in small groups by saying, “Deliberation does not moderate, but rather radicalizes people’s point of view.” (Surowiecki Page 479)What Surowiecki is saying is that when in a discussion in a small group the topic of deliberation makes people side with an extreme, there really is no middle ground when people make their decisions. Group polarization is so common among small groups there have been studies to show why group polarization is so prominent.

    The studies have shown that group polarization happens because of social comparison, which Surowiecki says, “It means that people are constantly comparing themselves to everyone else with an eye towards maintaining their relative position within the group.” (Surowiecki Page 479)This is unfortunate for a small group because it alters the outcome. Individuals in the small group might have a different opinion then what they are stating. Usually people do this because of the social comparison factor. Individuals are afraid to state what they think because it would be going against the norm or the group. What can help this problem in small groups is to allow everyone in the group to voice their own opinion.

    So that every individual can state their personal opinion on the topic, which in turn takes away the group polarization and lets the group think logically. This helps the group see all sides of the situation and not just the extreme sides. It also allows for people to think for themselves and not worry about what the other people in the group think about their answer.

    Another aspect that needs to happen in every small group is cognitive diversity. Surowieki makes a reference to the NASA MMT group, how in the 1960s even though everyone looked the same, all of the people from the MMT group were from different backgrounds, different jobs, which gave the diversity of thinking, how to do something right. “This seems hard to believe, since every engineer at Mission Control in late 1960s had the same crew and wore the same short – sleeved white shirt. But as Oberg pointed out points out, most of those men worked outside of NASA in many different industries before coming to the agency.” (Surowiecki Page 478) Having the cognitive diversity in the MMT group in the 1960s allowed the group to look the situation in different lights, allowing the MMT group different opinions and different ways to approach the subject. Now the MMT group was all from similar backgrounds, similar educations, and similar employment, giving the team no diversity, no different way of thinking, which in the end did not have a positive effect on the small group.

    “NASA employees today are more likely to have come to the agency directly out of graduate school, which means they are far less likely to have different opinions.” (Surowiecki Page 478) Since the small group had no cognitive diversity they all thought the same way, there was no difference in opinion, so there was no new way of finding a way to fix the problem they were facing. In every small group there needs to be cognitive diversity, giving the topic of discussion a new way to being looked at or a different way to look at a situation. “.. diversity of opinion is the single best guarantee that the group will reap benefits from face to face discussion.” (Surowiecki Page 478) Making the
    outcome of the small group a positive one.

    Another topic that Surowieki emphasizes is the necessity of equality in a group. In his essay Surowieki talks about how important it is for every person in the small group to voice their opinion. There should not be just one person who talks or a mouthpiece of the group. There should also not be one person who is overwhelmingly influential. This will be detrimental to the group, Surowieki explains this by saying, “And when advocates are chosen, as it were on the basis of status or talkativeness, rather than perceptiveness or keenness of insight, then the group’s chance of making a smart decision shrinks.” (Surowiecki Page 480) When a person in a small group does the majority of the talking, the rest of the people in the small group tend to believe that that specific person is the most knowledgeable about the topic, which is usually not the case.

    When one individual does the majority of the talking in the group, it makes that individual look confident, which makes the other people in the group believe that talkative person knows the most. When the entire group follows that one persons lead, then usually the group’s decision does not have a good outcome. This is because everyone in the groups’ opinion has been altered because they believe that what the talkative person is saying is true. When a group does not voice every individual’s opinion, the group could be missing very important information. By having every single person in the group state their opinions and show their knowledge, that gives the group more of an understanding of the topic, which in turn gives the group a more positive result.

    Small groups are essential in todays society. There are small groups being used every day. For example, juries have a very important role in American society because they make the decisions in court. If a jury conducts a small group incorrectly, the wrong person could be convicted. Another example of a small group that is prevalent in todays society is the MMT from NASA. It was because their small group did not handle the process correctly there was an extreme disaster from their final decisions. If the MMT group had more diversity in their small group the disaster could have most likely been avoided. With having more cognitive diversity in the group, the NASA team could have listened to different opinions, which would have lead to a positive outcome.

    If there was an equality in the small group instead of one dictator, there could have been a discussion asking the groups opinion, which would have led to the way to fix the problem. Instead the group did not all voice their opinion, instead they let one person in the group be the mouthpiece and let her do all the talking and decision making, which made the result of the Columbia a disastrous one. There was too much group polarization in the MMT group, since their was a dictator in the small group, the rest of the team decided throw their thoughts out the window and side with the dictator, they also did this because of the social comparison factor. They thought that if they disagreed with the dictator or the rest of the group, they would be factored out or not respected. The MMT group went against every aspect Surowiecki touched upon, they handled the small group in every wrong way possible.

    And that was why the outcome of the Columbia was so disastrous, because that small group did not handle the situation correctly. “At the same time, the MMT violated nearly every rule of good group decision making.” (Surowiecki Page 477)

    Surowiecki, James. Committees, Juries, and Teams: The Columbia Disaster and How Small Groups Can B Made To Work.

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    “The Hive” by James Surowiecki. (2016, May 07). Retrieved from

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