New research may just change what you think about what you know. That’s because when individual employees bring their knowledge and skills to organizational problems, even the most challenging problems can be solved, according to new research.
This occurs because, according to study co-author Bryan Bonner, "for groups to be successful, they must exploit the knowledge of their (individual) members effectively."
The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, proved this by looking at how both individuals and groups answered difficult questions. Questions included: what is the minimum driving distance between Salt Lake City and New York City and what is the weight of the world's heaviest man?
"It doesn’t take much. All you have to do is have people sit there for a while and think, 'What is it I already know about this, and how can that help find the solution?'" Bonner, an associate professor at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, said. "People find they often know more than they think they do. They realize that they might not know the whole answer to the problem, but there are a couple things they do know that might help the group come to a solution."
Therefore, leveraging what individuals already know is the key to solving a range of problems, according to the research.
"We solve problems by using the many examples, good and bad, we've gathered through hard-won experience throughout our lives. The problem is that we're not nearly as good at applying old knowledge to new problems as you’d think," Bonner said. "Research over more than a century has tried, without much success, to figure out how we can do a better job."
According to Bonner and co-author Michael Baumann, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas in San Antonio, improving the ability to transfer old knowledge to new situations may be as simple as attempting to solve problems with others. This is because when several people team up to solve problems, the group has several viewpoints to bring together in order to reach a solution.
"Although the sheer amount of brainpower it takes to consistently and effectively transfer learning from old to new is beyond many individuals, groups of people working together can actually be very good at it," the researchers said.
With that in mind, this research may not only change the way organizations go about solving problems, but also how organizations are constructed in the first place.
Also, in case you are wondering, it is 2,174 miles between Salt Lake City and New York City and the heaviest person weighed in at 1,400 pounds.