1: Something surprising was about to happen.

The entrepreneurs had gathered to pitch their business idea to a group of business executives. 

The stakes were high. Each entrepreneur had spent countless hours perfecting what they would say.

Because they knew they would be ranked. Only the very best pitches would earn an invitation to present to a group of angel investors. 

2: There was another observer in the room that day: Sandy Pentland, the Director of the MIT Human Dynamics Lab

Sandy and his team of MIT scientists would be using a sociometer to measure “the percentage of time each person spends talking, the energy levels of their voices, their speaking rates, the smoothness of turn-taking, the number of interruptions, and the amount each person’s vocal pattern mimics the others,” writes Daniel Coyle in The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups.

“The executives [listening to the pitches] thought they were evaluating the plans based on rational measures, such as: How original is this idea? How does it fit the current market? How well developed is this plan?” Daniel writes.

They were not. 

Sandy “found that the sociometers—which tracked only the cues exchanged by presenter and audience and ignored all the informational content—predicted the rankings with nearly perfect accuracy,” Daniel writes.

What the entrepreneurs said did not matter. 

“In other words, the content of the pitch didn’t matter,” Daniel writes, “as much as the set of cues with which the pitch was delivered and received.” 

Again: What the entrepreneurs said did not matter. 

While the executives were listening to the pitches, “another part of their brain was registering other crucial information, such as: How much does this person believe in this idea? How confident are they when speaking? How determined are they to make this work?” Daniel writes.

“And the second set of information—information that the business executives didn’t even know they were assessing–is what influenced their choice of business plan to the greatest degree.”

3: The results suggest we radically misunderstand the role human interaction plays. 

“Individuals aren’t really individuals,” Sandy suggests. “They’re more like musicians in a jazz quartet, forming a web of unconscious actions and reactions to complement the others in the group.

“Collective intelligence is not that different in some ways than apes in a forest,” he continues. “One [ape] is enthusiastic, and that signal recruits others, and they jump in and start doing stuff together. That’s the way group intelligence works, and this is what people don’t get.” 

Over the past several years, Sandy and his team have used sociometers “to capture the interactions of hundreds of groups in post-op wards, call centers, banks, salary negotiations, and business pitch sessions,” Daniel writes. 

“In each study, they discovered the same pattern: It’s possible to predict performance by ignoring all the informational context in the exchange and focusing on a handful of belonging cues.”

Sandy’s research shows that five specific, measurable factors drive team performance: 

1. Everyone in the group talks and listens in roughly equal measure, keeping contributions short. 

2. Members maintain high levels of eye contact, and their conversations and gestures are energetic. 

3. Members communicate directly with one another, not just with the team leader. 

4. Members carry on back-channel or side conversations within the team. 

5. Members periodically break, go exploring outside the team, and bring information back to share with the others. 

More tomorrow!


Reflection: Think back on a group I was part of that was uber-successful. Describe how that team interacted. 

Action: Focus on creating psychological safety today in my interactions with my team.

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