Literature circles work under the concept that "None of us is smarter than all of us". Like many utopias, that ideal is good on paper. Collaboration cannot be bad, right? In our very collaborative world of technology where the computer not only allows you to be a consumer but encourages you to be a producer (blogs, wikipedia, web pages), is that always true?
I am an avid reader of a blog called Creating Passionate Users written by several authors. The most prolific writer on that blog, Kathy Sierra-game developer and software creator, wrote something very profound which reflected on her experience at a conference where she heard James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds. Kathy writes that she believes that groups are collectively dumber than individuals (see her creative image on this post). Read her post and then reflect on your thoughts about "groupwork":
He started with a few thoughts on how ants (and so many other creatures) are quite simple and stupid, but that their intelligence and complexity grows with the number of interactions between them. More ant interaction equals more sophisticated behavior. It's similar to flocking behavior, of course, where birds follow very simple rules but complex behavior emerges.
And that's all great and intuitive... until you get to humans. Humans, he said, demonstrate the opposite principle: more interactions equals dumber behavior. When we come together and interact as a group seeking consensus, we lose sophistication and intelligence. Ants get smarter while we get dumber.
So how does this track with the name of his book?
Where I had it wrong is that his book's premise (wisdom of crowds) comes with qualifiers.
The wisdom of crowds comes not from the consensus decision of the group, but from the aggregation of the ideas/thoughts/decisions of each individual in the group.
At its simplest form, it means that if you take a bunch of people and ask them (as individuals) to answer a question, the average of each of those individual answers will likely be better than if the group works together to come up with a single answer. And he has a ton of real examples (but you'll just have to read the book for them ; )