The perils of small worlds

I’m still mining Keith Sawyer’s Group Genius for insights; the more I re-read it the more useful and powerful I think his research is.

One nuggest he reports is the study done by Brian Uzzi of Northwestern University and Jarrett Spiro of Stanford. They studied the community of creatives – directors choreographers composers etc etc – that put together Broadway musicals. They looked at them over a time period of over 40 years from 1945. They basically established measures of creativity based on both critical acclaim and financial success. They laboriously assessed the social networks each year to create a “Q score”. Essentially, the higher the Q score, the greater the density of social contact between individuals in the Broadway community.

In years when Q was low, so was creativity. When Q – i.e. connectivity – rose, do did creativity.

But here’s the kicker: at a certain point, if Q kept climbing, creativity actually went down. This suggests its possible to overconnect, and for a community to become constrained by its relationships rather than stimulated by them.

I think there’s a moral here for anyone who aims for idealistic systems in which everyone is supposed to have access to everything and everyone. This idealism may end up as a form of totalitarianism, lacking diversity and randomness.

I found their reseach in this pdf, titled Collaboration and Creativity: The Small World Problem

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