Incrementally better: why two heads in your team are better than one, but six may be best of all.

I’m rather lucky in that my favourite pub is just down the road. It’s tiny, barely a dozen tables and stools clustered around them, with a range of real ales and good whiskey. It also runs a particularly challenging pub quiz on tuesday night, one which i have a long and illustrious history of losing.

Last night, due to several non attendees, we fielded a team of two: myself and Gez. At first glance, this looked like a strong showing, as Gez is great at sports questions, my achilles heel. He is also the secret weapon, having a first class degree in some field of mathematics from Oxford, but it rapidly became clear that our initial enthusiasm was possibly unfounded. There were very few maths questions. The picture round involves staring at a sheet with a dozen celebrity photos, the challenge being to name them. I am terrible at this. As, it turns out, is Gez.

As we sat there, squinting and thinking, trying to decide if Julia Roberts ever looked like that, it occurred to me that there really are times when two heads are better than one, but three may have an advantage over two. At the end of the evening, our final score was 27, with the first place team scoring 43, although they had seven members. So, i could argue that we didn’t do too badly. After all, they only scored 16 more than us, that’s around three questions each for the five extra members.

So does that make an effective team? Sometimes people say that a team should be more than the sum of it’s parts, but in this case, you could argue that they should have scored far higher if that were true. In reality, the score probably reflects that there were a core of fairly obvious questions, with a range of incrementally more complex or specialist ones. Having more people simply increases your odds that someone will happen, by chance, to know that a cello has four strings. There may also be advantages of better feedback: in an embarrassing damnation of my education, we spelled ‘accommodation’ wrong in the spelling round. With more heads, the level of ridicule may have picked up on this.

Had the quiz been exclusively about complex number theory and archaeology, i feel confident that we would have scored better, but it just so happened that neither of us had much background knowledge in tv history or the events of the mid seventies.

So i guess that it’s not just about having more people, it’s about fine tuning the team to have the right people: someone good at science, someone good at sports and someone good at obscure tv facts. Sometimes they may be one and the same person. Having the right team for the right job: for a more specialist quiz, you need a more specialist team. So, not just more heads, but more of the right heads. Still, on the plus side, at least we can only get better (Gez, i promised i wouldn’t tell anyone how badly we did: i lied, sorry).

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Challenge, Competition, Knowledge, Teams and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Incrementally better: why two heads in your team are better than one, but six may be best of all.

  1. Nick says:

    So … when do you get the team together?

  2. Pingback: Learn excellence wherever you can | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

  3. Pingback: A map of learning technology – 2014 | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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