Americans have a fascination with the Lone Ranger. Not necessarily the Old West character played by Clayton Moore in the 1950s, but rather the whole idea of one man or woman acting alone, and triumphing against the odds. It’s a romantic idea; one that has driven countless movies starring Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood, and Harrison Ford (and, to a lesser extent, Jerry Lewis).
But it’s a myth.
In the real world, the biggest accomplishments tend to be the result of a team working together toward a common goal. Why is this? It’s because when it comes to solving problems, tackling projects, and achieving goals, a team offers substantial advantages over an individual.
Among other things, a team provides:
· Greater quantity of ideas
· Greater diversity of ideas
· Deeper base of experience
· Greater chance of one idea sparking another
· More impartial evaluation of ideas
In his groundbreaking book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki makes the case that groups of people, in general, are better than individuals or an elite few at things like solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future. “It’s as if,” Surowiecki says, “we’ve been programmed to be collectively smart.”
Yes, an individual acting alone can accomplish great things. But the odds are better with a team. A study published by the American Psychological Association in April, 2006 verifies that teams perform better on complex problem solving than the best of an equivalent number of individuals working alone. And this is just one of many studies that have shown the same result: in general, teams perform better than individuals.
And yet the myth persists. It persists because it’s fun. It’s fun to imagine being the hero in the black mask, riding off into the sunset while the townspeople ask, “Who was that masked man?”
But it’s still a myth. After all, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.