Claudia Dreifus published a provocative article and interview with Scott E. Page in the NYTimes in January. His book is The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies (Princeton University Press). In the interview, Page explains that, together with Lu Hong—an economist at Chicago’s Loyola University—he
constructed a formal model that showed mathematically that diversity can trump ability, and also when it does. . . . What the model showed was that diverse groups of problem solvers outperformed the groups of the best individuals at solving problems. The reason: the diverse groups got stuck less often than the smart individuals, who tended to think similarly.
The other thing we did was to show in mathematical terms how when making predictions, a group’s errors depend in equal parts on the ability of its members to predict and their diversity. This second theorem can be expressed as an equation: collective accuracy = average accuracy + diversity.
I am leery of the predictive power of mathematical models in the world. Furthermore, I haven’t read this book and can’t speak to its readability or to the quality of the research in it. I do think the ideas expressed in the article are worth talking about. It’s a good addition to the national conversation on these issues.