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Facilitate Individual Extant Knowledge

Update Date: Apr 03, 2012 11:33 AM EDT

For groups to be successful, they must exploit the knowledge of their individual members effectively, according to a new study.

The study focused on promoting effective knowledge transfer in group members by facilitating their use of extant knowledge when solving novel problems and examines how this affects subsequent discussion, decision making, and performance. 

"The task 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, the author of the study, said. 

The researchers used 540 University of Utah undergraduate students, assigning half to three-member groups on one hand, with the remaining 270 participants working as individuals. Their task: arriving at estimates closest to the correct answers to such questions as the elevation of Utah's King's Peak; the weight of the heaviest man in history; the population of Utah; and the minimum driving distance between Salt Lake City and New York City.

"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."

Facilitating knowledge transfer promoted a more effective dialogue in which members were able to share more of their knowledge and discuss member expertise, groups giving greater weight to better member preferences in their decision-making process, and improved group performance relative to both average comparison individuals and to groups operating without this intervention. 

The effectiveness of promoting knowledge transfer in a group context relative to an individual context is discussed and group superiority is related to the concept of task demonstrability, according to the study. 

The study was published in February's edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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