Aha moments – online or face to face?

Three items crossed my screen last week. All related to the theme of teamwork and generating ideas. The first was about the public isolation project. Christin Norin lived in a glass fronted space analogous to a shop window for a month with no face to face communication with anyone. She was able only to communicate through various social media, and also (though not very well) with people staring at her through the glass 24/7. She blogged on her experience each day. So day nine, for example, reads:

There is research out there that supports the idea that tweeting and surfing facebook can makes us happy. See more here (make sure you look at experiment #3.) Maybe I am doing fine in here because I am constantly communicating online. One thing I am noticing is that I am truly addicted to it right now. I can't turn it off at all during the day. When I stop to try and read a book I am distracted by the alert messages. I could turn these off, but I don't. I feel like I might miss something.

I found the whole experiment fascinating because it started to explore what we're trying to get to grips with as we encourage virtual and mobile working among teams. It raises the questions of can you have 'real' interactions only through social media and online communications. Does this form of relationship build a sense of community and if not how much face to face interaction is needed to build it?

The Boston Globe article is about team intelligence.

A striking study led by an MIT Sloan School of Management professor shows that teams of people display a collective intelligence that has surprisingly little to do with the intelligence of the team's individual members.

And the actual research report on which this article is based was published in the online journal Science on 29 October 2010: Vol. 330 no. 6004 pp. 686-688. The abstract reads:

Psychologists have repeatedly shown that a single statistical factor-often called "general intelligence"-emerges from the correlations among people's performance on a wide variety of cognitive tasks. But no one has systematically examined whether a similar kind of "collective intelligence" exists for groups of people. In two studies with 699 people, working in groups of two to five, we find converging evidence of a general collective intelligence factor that explains a group's performance on a wide variety of tasks. This "c factor" is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.

It's not clear from the abstract whether group members were face to face so I've emailed one of the authors to find this out. I'll provide an update when I get a response. It seems likely that they were as the MIT report on the research notes that Thomas Malone, another of the co-authors says they "definitely intend to continue research on this topic, including studies on the ways groups interact online".

I like the next sentence in the report where he added that "collective stupidity," the failure of a group to perform to the abilities of its members, exists along with collective intelligence" – I wonder if that is more prevalent in on-line or face to face group interactions and if collective stupidity is more prevalent that collective intelligence?

It was interesting on the MIT site where the report is to hear Thomas Malone talk briefly about the concept of collective intelligence.

The third related piece that caught my eye was about creativity in Strategy + business – a piece called How Aha Really Happens the byline for this explains that "The theory of intelligent memory suggests that companies relying on conventional creativity tools are getting shortchanged." The article dismisses brainstorming as an old hat method of generating ideas and instead applauds the GE matrix approach that works to generate "Flashes of insight [that] give you the idea for your strategy, and the GE matrix lets you harness the flashes of the whole team." I'm not sure that flashes of insight are radically different from brainstorming but I enjoyed reading the article although again it is not made clear – but is implied – that the team members are face to face.

So my question after reading the three pieces is: Do individuals who are not face to face but work 'together' have an equal ability as teams that are face to face to a) build an adequate sense of team-ness, belonging and community for high work performance b) develop collective intelligence – or collective stupidity c) generate creative and workable ideas through 'flashes of insight', Are there any researchers out there do this kind of comparison?