When a good idea is a bad thing

Feb. 20, 2008 at 9:05 PM

BLOOMINGTON, Ind., Feb. 20 (UPI) -- The bad thing about a good idea is that it may distract from finding a better idea, a U.S. cognitive scientist says.

Robert Goldstone, of Indiana University Bloomington, found close-knit groups that freely shared information did well solving simple problems, but less-informed groups did better solving difficult problems.

"It turns out not to be effective if different inventors and labs see exactly what everyone else is doing because of the human tendency to glom onto the current 'best' solution," Goldstone says in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, compares three groups: the "fully-connected" where all information is accessible to everyone, the "locally connected" where participants were only aware of what their neighbors on either side were doing and a "small world" group who were "locally connected" but had few distant connections added.

"The small world network preserves diversity," Goldstone says. "One clique could be coming up with one answer, another clique could be coming up with another."

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, Goldstone says.

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