(This is the one version of the blog I wrote as the Executive Director of Research for VitalSmarts).
Congratulations. You’ve just been asked to assemble the smartest team in your organization. This will be the Einstein, Ninja, Go-To, Delta Team that will have to solve the toughest problems you face: How to increase growth by 70%, how to cut costs by 25%, how to rebrand the company, and what to do if the CEO’s spouse repeatedly staggers up to monopolize the Christmas Party Karaoke machine again next year.
Who would you choose to be on your Brainiac Committee? You could line everybody up by their IQ scores and pick the ones at the head of the line, or you could pick people who have a cool British-sounding accent, or you could pick that one person on the second floor who was a runner-up nominee for the Supreme Court. But according to an article in the journal Science, if you really want the smartest team that was going to make the best decisions, you should use a different approach.
The article dives deep into collective intelligence. The authors analyzed 699 people who were working in teams of two or five to solve a wide range of problems like brainstorming, moral judgements, and negotiation.
As it turned out, two things differentiated the teams that made the smartest decisions from the rest. First, teams where one or two people did most of the talking made less intelligent decisions than groups where everyone spoke up.
Second, teams with higher percentages of females made better, more effective decisions. They were more sensitive about getting input from everyone; they were better able to reach compromises, and they were generally more effective. This is consistent with an earlier 2006 study by Wellesley professor, Sumur Erkut, who showed that having two or more women on a corporate board brings “a collaborative leadership style that benefits boardroom dynamics by increasing listening, social support, and win-win problem solving.”
The research shows women are less polarizing, more collaborative, and more likely to reach a solution that makes everyone happy. The New York Times columnist, Bruce Feiler, recounts a story of having dinner with a Google executive who said, they always make sure there is more than one woman at a meeting. Their decision was based on this study. Turns out “diversity” isn’t just a fair word, it’s also a smart word.
The high-performing teams in the Science study tended to weigh options, encourage everyone to speak up, and to compromise better. These may be skills that come more naturally to some people than others, but they are all skills we can learn. In fact, they’re skills we’ve been teaching for 30 years. And yet, we just can’t assume they come naturally to everyone. Find ways to enable your people to learn the dialogue skills the enable everyone around the table—regardless of power, position, or authority—to speak up. And look carefully at the makeup of your teams. Be sure they are diverse enough, in gender and experience, to create a dynamic where thoughtful and smart decisions are made.
If you get it right, that diverse, dialogue-armed team of yours might also be able to solve that Christmas Party Karaoke problem. More karaoke, yes. More eggnog, no.
There are 100 things on your mental To-Do list. Daily duties (like email and planning dinner) and pre-scheduled stuff (like meetings and appointments). But what remains are the big things that are easy to put off because they don’t have hard deadlines – things starting a new initiative, exploring a great idea for a side hustle, finishing a pet project, or taking the first step to follow that crazy dream you’ve had for 10 years. These are the things that could have the biggest impact on you, come the end of the year.
But these projects are also the easiest things to put off or to only push ahead 1 inch each week. If you push 100 projects ahead 1 inch each week, you’ve made 100 inches of progress at the end of the week, but your desk is still full and you’re feeling frustratingly resigned to always be behind. This is an incremental approach.
A different approach would be to push a 50-inch project ahead until it is finished and falls off the desk; then you could push a 40-inch project ahead until it falls off; and then you can spend the last of your time and energy pushing a small 10-inch project off your desk. This is the “push-it-off-the-desk” approach.
Both approaches take 100-inches of work. However, the “push-it-off-the-desk” approach changes how you think and feel. You still have 97 things left to do, but you can see you made tangible progress. For about 12 years, I tried a number of different systems to do this – to finish up what was most important for the week. Each of them eventually ended up being too complicated or too constraining for me to stick with.
Eventually I stopped looking for a magic system. Instead, at the end of every week, I simply listed the projects or project pieces I was most grateful to have totally finished. Super simple. It kept me focused on finishing things, and it gave me a specific direction for next week (the next things to finish). It’s since evolved into something I call a “ 3-3-3 Weekly Recap.”
Here’s how a 3-3-3 Weekly Recap works. Every Friday I write down the 3 biggest things I finished that week (“Done”), the 3 things I want to finish next week (“Doing”), and 3 things I’m waiting for (“Waiting for”). This ends up being a record of what I did that week, a plan for what to focus on next week, and a reminder of what I need to follow up on. It helps keep me accountable to myself, and it keeps me focused on finishing 3 big things instead of 100 little things. Here’s an example of one that’s been scribbled in a notebook at the end of last week:
Even though you’d be writing this just for yourself, it might improve your game. It focuses you for the week, it gives you a plan for next week, and it prompts you to follow-up on things you kind of forgot you were waiting for.
Sometimes I do it in a notebook and sometimes I type it and send it to myself as an email. It doesn’t matter the form it’s in or if you ever look back at it (I don’t), it still works. I’ve shared this with people in academia, business, and government. Although it works for most people who try it, it works best for academics who manage their own time and for managers who are supervising others. They say it helps to keep the focus on moving forward instead of either simply drifting through the details of the day or being thrown off course by a new gust of wind.
I’ve also used this with others who I work with, and we usually use it as a starting point for our 1-on-1 weekly meetings. They usually email it to me and it’s a useful check-in. It helps them develop a “Finish it up” mentality, instead of the “Polish this until its perfect” mentality. Also, you can give feedback on what they’re choosing to focus on, and you might be able to speed up what they might be waiting for (especially if its something on your desk).
Good luck in pushing 3 To-Dos off your desk and getting things done. I hope you find this helps.
[Note: This post was originally done for my "Academics Only" blog, but I also think it's important enough to post here, even though it's a departure from my usual posts on this page.]
In 2017-19, about 18 of my research articles were retracted. These retractions offer some useful lessons to scholars, and they also offer some useful next steps to those who want to publish in the social sciences. Two of these steps include 1) Choose a publishable topic, and 2) have a rough mental roadmap of what the finished paper might look. That is, what’s the positioning, the study, and the possible contribution.
The topics I’ve described here offer one set of roadmaps that could be useful. First, they were of interest to journals in medicine, behavioral economics, marketing, nutrition, psychology, health, and consumer behavior. Second, they each show what a finished paper might look like. They show the positioning, relevant background research, methodological tips, and key implications.
I find all of these topics super interesting and of practical importance. This document provides a two-page template for each one that shows 1) An overview why it was done, 2) the abstract (or a summary if there was no abstract), 3) the reason it was retracted, 4) how it could be done differently, and 5) promising new research opportunities on the topic.
In this document, I lay out an estimate of how much effort it might take to do studies on these topics, and I’ve also estimated what I think the practical impact each research project might have. These are my own subjective estimates, but you might find them a useful starting point if you’re looking for a tie-breaker between two different topics.
I would strongly encourage anyone who’s interested in publishing in these areas to closely follow principles of open science, from preregistration of hypotheses and analytic strategies to open materials and open data. Making specific hypotheses and testing them by following open science principles will be the best next way forward. A good introduction to these principles, along with hands-on advice, is this: Klein, O., Hardwicke, T. E., Aust, F., Breuer, J., Danielsson, H., Hofelich Mohr, A., … Frank, M. C. (2018). A practical guide for transparency in psychological science. Collabra: Psychology, 4(1), 20. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1525/collabra.158
Academia can be a tremendously rewarding career both you and for the people who benefit from you research. Best wishes in moving topics like these forward, and best wishes on a great career.
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I'm Brian Wansink, and I've been lucky to work with lots of wonderful researchers to discover insights on how to help people become more effective, happier, and more meaningfully connected with each other.
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