The not-so-good part of a ‘good idea’

February 20th, 2008 - 3:34 pm ICT by admin  


New York, Feb 20 (IANS) It is probably not such a good idea to freely share a “good idea”, a new study has found. Researchers at Indiana University contend that when information is freely shared, good ideas tend to stunt innovation by stopping people from pursuing even better ideas.

Findings of the study, led by cognitive scientist Robert Goldstone, have been published in the latest issue of the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Grappling with the problem of how best to get work out of a group, Goldstone found that if people saw exactly what everyone else was doing, they tended to latch onto the “best” solution, giving up efforts to find any other solution.

The study used a virtual environment in which participants worked in three specifically designed groups to solve a problem.

In a “fully connected” group, everyone’s work was completely accessible to everyone else. In a “locally connected” group, participants primarily were aware of what their neighbours, or the people on either side, were doing.

In a “small world” group, participants also were primarily aware of what their neighbours were doing, but they also had a few distant connections that let them send or retrieve good ideas from outside their neighbourhood.

Goldstone found that the fully connected groups performed the best when solving simple problems. Small world groups, however, performed better on more difficult problems. For these problems, the truism “the more information, the better” was not valid.

“The small world network preserves diversity,” Goldstone said. “One clique could be coming up with one answer, another clique could be coming up with another. As a result, the group as a whole is searching the problem space more effectively.

“For hard problems, connecting people by small world networks offers a good compromise between having members explore a variety of innovations, while still quickly disseminating promising innovations throughout the group,” he said.

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