This is an edited extract from The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Make Dumb Mistakes.
Iceland should never have made it to the Euro 2016 men’s football tournament. Four years previously, they were ranked 131st in the world. Yet they knocked out the Netherlands in the qualifiers, and then as the smallest nation ever to reach the championships, drew with Portugal and Hungary, and then took down Austria. But their biggest scalp was England, a team packed with star names. So how did they do it – and what lessons can be learned from their unexpected success?
Many organisations employ highly intelligent, qualiﬁed people in the assumption that they will automatically combine their collective brainpower to produce magical results. Yet such groups often fail to cash in on their talents, with poor creativity, lost eﬃciency and sometimes overly risky decision making. And exactly the same dynamics that brought Iceland their victory, and England their defeat, can help us to understand why.
Let’s ﬁrst consider some more general intuitions about group thinking.
One popular idea has been the “wisdom of the crowd” – the idea that many brains, working together, can correct for each other’s errors in judgements; we make each other better.
Some good evidence of this view comes from an analysis of scientists’ journal articles, which ﬁnds that collaborative eﬀorts are far more likely to be cited and applied than papers with just one author. Contrary to the notion of a lone genius, conversations and the exchange of ideas bring out the best in the team members; their combined brainpower allows them to see connections that had been invisible previously.