Saturday, December 01, 2012

Co-ompeticion: Cuando los Competidores Colaboran

Competir y colaborar pueden paracer como relaciones opuestas. Pero cada dia vemos comola interdependencia nos obliga a encontrar un terrotorio comun en donde todos alcancemos souluciones ganar-ganar.  A continuacion un articulo sobre como los mega rivales Netflix y Amazon han logrado identificar oportunidades para colaborar.  

Netflix and Amazon: Quite the co-opetition case study
by Larry Dignan
November 30, 2012

Netflix and Amazon are fierce rivals on streaming video. Netflix is also moving its entire technology infrastructure to Amazon Web Services. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is Amazon's most visible infrastructure as a service customer. On another front, Amazon is making storage cheaper for Hastings while raising Netflix's content costs through competition elsewhere.

Simply put, the Netflix and Amazon relationship is complicated, nuanced and in some regards just plain weird. The Netflix-Amazon relationship also highlights why Amazon Web Services (AWS) is successful. At the AWS re:Invent conference this week in Las Vegas, the Netflix-Amazon relationship was on full display.

But to hear Amazon execs and Hastings talk there's nothing out of the ordinary.

Hastings noted AWS price cuts and thanked Andy Jassy, senior vice president of AWS on Wednesday. Hastings also said Netflix's entire infrastructure will run on AWS.

On Thursday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said:
We put just as much care into Netflix on AWS as we do Amazon retail. We may compete on Prime instant video, but we bust our butts every day for Netflix on AWS. The whole point of what we are doing is to standardize that layer. Amazon retail gets the benefit of standardizing that layer.

The importance of this Netflix relationship can't be overstated. The Netflix case studies and ongoing collaboration allow AWS to be an option for many of Amazon's competitors. If the Netflix and Amazon partnership seems odd to some folks it can't be worse than Best Buy using AWS. Retailers use AWS. E-commerce companies use AWS. A bevy of startups and large enterprises are using AWS.

Many of these customers also compete with Amazon. In other words, AWS rivals/customers put a lot of trust in Bezos and the gang to keep its IT infrastructure unit separate and stay that way. That goodwill may be AWS' secret sauce in many respects. Belief that AWS is independent can allow it to fend off competitors who are just as surprised as Bezos at the traction Amazon has with enterprises, government customers and education institutions.

What remains to be seen is whether AWS is dented by encroachment from a bevy of rivals such as Rackspace. Rackspace has made a point of trying to poach retail customers from AWS. The Rackspace argument: Why would you give business to a rival? So far, the argument hasn't worked.

Adam Selipsky, vice president of product marketing, sales, and product management at AWS, said rivals will give business to the company because it meets their IT needs.
This co-opetition is "not uncommon at all," said Selipsky. Ultimately retailers or any other customer base will stick with AWS if it delivers strong performance, a good pace of innovation, value and good customer support. If AWS didn't operate independently customers wouldn't use its services, he added. "The only way to build a healthy large cash flow generating business is to focus on servicing customers," he said. "We and customers are comfortable with the long-term state of affairs."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

La Creatividad como Proceso Colaborativo

Brian Uzzi, PhD, profesor del Kellog School of Management, presenta los resultados de su investigacion sobre como la colaboracion esta impactando el proceso de creatividad.  Uzzi propone que los grandes avances de innovacion en la humanidad han sido en su gran mayoria el resultado de procesos colaborativos. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

La Intuicion y la Cooperacion

Sobre la intuicion y la cooperacion, un articulo reciente que establece que si respondemos con rapidez estaremos inclinados a cooperar.  Esto no concuerda con mis observaciones durante simulaciones de colaborcion y trabajo en equipo.  Ademas, siempre he puesto en duda exprimentos que usen juegos de economia para describir las relaciones humanas. Es una forma de enmarcar las relaciones en un paradigma economico y reducir nuestras interacciones a meros actos de costo-beneficio.  Aun asi creo que es una lectura importante. 

Quick intuitive decisions foster more charity and cooperation than slow calculated ones
by Ed Yong
Discover Magazine
September 19, 2012

Our lives are governed by both fast and slow – by quick, intuitive decisions based on our gut feelings; and by deliberate, ponderous ones based on careful reflection. How do these varying speeds affect our choices? Consider the many situations when we must put our own self-interest against the public good, from giving to charity to paying out taxes. Are we naturally prone to selfishness, behaving altruistically only through slow acts of self-control? Or do we intuitively reveal our better angels, giving way to self-interest as we take time to think?

According to David Rand from Harvard University, it’s the latter. Through a series of experiments, he has found that, on average, people behave more selflessly if they make decisions quickly and intuitively. If they take time to weigh things up, cooperation gives way to selfishness. The title of his paper – “Spontaneous giving and calculated greed” – says it all.

Working with Joshua Greene and Martin Nowak, Rand asked volunteers to play the sort of games that economists have used for years. They have to decide how to divvy, steal, invest or monopolise a pot of money, sometimes with the option to reward or punish other players. These games are useful research tools, but there’s an unspoken simplicity to them. Sure, the size of the payoffs or the number of rounds may vary, but experiments assume that people play consistently depending on their personal preferences. We know from personal experience that this is unlikely to be true, and Rand’s experiments confirm as much. They show that speed matters.

Rand started with a simple public goods game, where players decide how much money to put into a pot. The pot is then doubled and split evenly among them. The group gets the best returns if everyone goes all-in, but each individual does best if they withhold their money and reap the rewards nonetheless.

Rand recruited 212 people for the experiment using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an internet marketplace where people can outsource tasks to worldwide volunteers. The Turk provided two advantages: the volunteers were more diverse than the W.E.I.R.D. undergraduates who normally take part in psychological studies; and Rand could measure how quickly they made their decisions. With that data, he found that players contributed around 67 percent of their money if they made decisions within 10 seconds, but only around 53 percent if they took longer.

Rand also went back to four of his earlier studies, where he had recorded reaction times (including one I’ve written about before). All of these involved college students, but they used different economic games. Nonetheless, all showed the same link between faster decisions, and more cooperative choices.  “Although the cold logic of self-interest is seductive, our first impulse is to cooperate,” Rand writes.

Of course, these results are just correlations. Does rapid-fire decision-making actually foment cooperation, or are selfless decisions just quicker to make? To find out, Rand recruited more volunteers through the Mechanical Turk, and got them to play another public goods game. This time, he manipulated the speed of their decisions—he either told them to choose quickly, or asked them to write about a time when their intuitions served them well or careful reasoning led them astray. Under both conditions, the volunteers made faster choices, and contributed more money to the communal pot. If, however, they were told to decide slowly, or to write about times when reflection beat intuition, they stumped up less money.

From these results, it’s tempting to conclude that cooperation is somehow “innate” or “hardwired” and that selfishness is somehow imposed upon these predispositions. But Rand points out that our intuitions are also shaped by our daily lives. In so many of our choices, cooperation is the sensible call; if we cheat, we may be punished, lose our reputation, or deny ourselves the future goodwill of those we wrong.

So, when volunteers take part in the experiments, “their automatic first response is to be cooperative,” Rand writes. “It then requires reflection to overcome this cooperative impulse and instead adapt to the unusual situation created in these experiments, in which cooperation is not advantageous.” He found two lines of support for this idea when he surveyed his volunteers: The link between fast-thinking and charity only held for people who said that their daily lives were mostly filled with cooperative interactions; and it only held for those who hadn’t taken part in similar experimental games before.

“This shows how it’s difficult to consider experimental play in isolation from things outside the lab or as completely determined by the game’s monetary payoffs, as a lot of economists do,” says Ann Dreber Almenberg from the Stockholm School of Economics, and one of Rand’s former colleagues.

Obviously, all of these results are averages, and the individuals in the study varied greatly. Some people hardly cooperated at all, regardless of how quickly or slowly they thought. Others took a long time, and still erred on the side of selflessness. “We weren’t able to find any traits that differentiated these people from everyone else, but it something we are quite interested in exploring more,” says Rand. And more importantly, no one showed the opposite trend—no one cooperated more when they made intuitive rather than reflective decisions.

Rand now wants to find out more about how the link decision speed and cooperation varies between individuals, and across different cultures. He also wants to understand how these trade-offs play out in real settings, and he suspects that “fact-based rational pitches may be less effective than more emotional appeals, if you are trying to get other people to be cooperative.”

Reference: Rand, Greene & Nowak. 2012. Spontaneous giving and calculated greed. Nature

Sobre la Confianza y la Intuicion

La intuicion en la toma de decisiones, en especifico el decidir si alguien es confiable o no, es uno de los temas resbaladizos de la psicologia.  El siguiente articulo amplia el cnocimiento sobre que claves visuales y gestos corporales aportan a la desconfianza. Pulsen aqui y veran un video del robot realizando los gestos.

Who’s Trustworthy? A Robot Can Help Teach Us
by Tara Parker-Pope
The New York Times
September 10, 2012

How do we decide whether to trust somebody?

An unusual new study of college students’ interactions with a robot has shed light on why we intuitively trust some people and distrust others. While many people assume that behaviors like avoiding eye contact and fidgeting are signals that a person is being dishonest, scientists have found that no single gesture or expression consistently predicts trustworthiness.

But researchers from Northeastern University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell recently identified four distinct behaviors that, together, appear to warn our brains that a person can’t be trusted.

The findings, to be published this month in the journal Psychological Science, may help explain why we are sometimes quick to like or dislike a person we have just met. More important, the research could one day be used to develop computer programs that can rapidly assess behavior in airports or elsewhere to flag security risks.

In the first experiment, 86 undergraduates from Northeastern were given five minutes to get to know a fellow student they hadn’t met before. Half the pairs met face to face; the other half interacted online by instant message.

Then the students were asked to play a game in which all the players got four tokens and the chance to win money. A token was worth $1 if a player kept it for himself or $2 when he gave it to his partner. Players could win $4 each if both partners kept their tokens, but if they worked together and traded all four tokens, then each partner could win $8. But the biggest gain — $12 — came from cheating a partner out of his tokens and not giving any in return.

Over all, only about 1 in 5 people (22 percent) were completely trustworthy and cooperative, giving away all their tokens so that each partner could win $8. Thirteen percent were untrustworthy, keeping all or most of their tokens. The remaining 65 percent were somewhat cooperative, giving away two or three tokens but also holding one or two back for security.

Both groups demonstrated the same level of cooperation. Whether the students met face to face or online didn’t change their decisions about how many tokens to give away or keep. But students who met in person were far better at predicting the trustworthiness of the partner; that suggested they were relying on visual cues.

“Lack of face-to-face contact didn’t make people more selfish,” said the study’s lead author, David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern. “But a person’s ability to predict what their partner was going to do was greater face to face than online. There is something the mind is picking up that gives you greater accuracy and makes you better able to identify people who are going to be trustworthy.”

To find out what cues the players were responding to, the researchers filmed the students’ five-minute conversations before the game started. They discovered that four specific gestures predicted when a person was less trustworthy: leaning away from someone; crossing arms in a blocking fashion; touching, rubbing or grasping hands together; and touching oneself on the face, abdomen or elsewhere. These cues were not predictive by themselves; they predicted untrustworthiness only in combination.

And individuals intuitively picked up on the cues. “The more you saw someone do this, the more intuition you had that they would be less trustworthy,” Dr. DeSteno said.
The researchers then conducted an experiment pairing students with a friendly-faced robot, developed by Cynthia Breazeal, who directs M.I.T.’s personal robots group.

The setup was basically the same, except the students had a 10-minute conversation with the robot before they played the game. (The extra time was needed to help the student get over the “wow” factor of talking to a robot.) A woman acted as the robot’s voice, but she was unaware of its movements, which were controlled by two other people. Sometimes the robot used only typical gestures, like moving a hand or shrugging its shoulders, but sometimes it mimicked the four cues of distrust: clasping its hands, crossing its arms, touching its face or leaning away.

Surprisingly, when students saw the robot make the hand and body gestures associated with distrust, they later made decisions in the token game that suggested they didn’t trust the robot.

In questionnaires afterward, students in both groups rated the robot equally likable. But those who had unknowingly witnessed the cues associated with distrust also rated the robot as less trustworthy, compared with students exposed to only the conversational gestures.

“It makes no sense to ascribe intentions to a robot,” said an author of the study, Robert H. Frank, an economics professor at Cornell. “But it appears we have certain postures and gestures that we interpret in certain ways. When we see them, whether it’s a robot or a human, we’re affected by it, because of the pattern it evokes in our brain responses.” Dr. Frank said the study suggested that there might have been an evolutionary benefit to cooperation — and, more important, to the ability to determine who could be trusted.

“One of the interesting big questions in evolution has always been ‘Why do people do the right thing and pass up opportunities for gain when no one is looking?’ ” he said. “But if you are known to be a trustworthy person, then you are economically valuable in many situations, and it’s also valuable to be able to identify who won’t cheat.

“Life is all about finding people you can trust in different situations.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Liderazgo Comunitario

A continuación, un video de Peter Snege, creador del concepto Organización de Aprendizaje, y su visión de liderazgo.  Me parece peculiar que define el liderazgo como un proceso colectivo y no individual como se suele describir. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Asombrarse es beneficioso para el ser humano

Un nuevo estudio del campo de la sicologia presenta una nueva mirada al beneficio de presenciar experiencias que causen impresion o asombro (awe). Es interesante que este estudio valide una de las experiencias mas comunes en nuestros programas de Curso de Sogas, el asombro e impresionSabemos por años que la aventura es una fuente interminable de asombro. Aqui les dejo el articulo de la revista Buisiness Insider y un video para que se asombren y se impresionen.

Psychologists: Awesomeness Is Good For You
Gus Libin, Business Insider

A seriously cool study is coming out later this year in Psychological Science on the benefits of awe [pdf].
Awe, which describes a "feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder" and comes from the old Norse word for "terror," seems like a strange subject for research, but its benefits are clear.

Lead author Melanie Rudd of Stanford University concluded that awe expands people's perception of time, enhances well-being and causes people to behave more altruistically and less materialistically.

How did they stimulate awe? Rudd explained over email:

The methods that were the most effective at stimulating awe were those that presented participants with a “new” awe experience (i.e., having participants watch the awe-eliciting commercial). Remembering a past awe-eliciting experience and reading about an imaginary awe-eliciting experience (i.e., the short story) also elicited awe, but relatively less compared to when participants experienced a “fresh” and “real” awe experience.

How can we stimulate awe and its benefits in our daily life? Rudd explains:

There are two things needed for a true awe experience: 1) Perceptual vastness (i.e., you need to perceive that you’ve encountered something vast in number, size, scope, complexity, or social bearing) and 2) A need for accommodation (i.e., you must feel that you need to revise or update your mental structures/the way you think/your understanding of the world in order to understand the perceptually vast thing/stimuli). So anything you experience in daily life that leads you to experience these two things can stimulate awe and its benefits. And the things that elicit these two things and, as a result, awe, can differ from person to person. However, there are some things that seem to more frequently elicit awe—experiencing nature, being exposed to art or music, and observing the accomplishments of others. Things like social interactions and personal accomplishments seem to be less likely to elicit awe. And I imagine that just putting yourself in new situations, in new places, and encountering new people would increase your chances of experiencing awe.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

La Nueva Ciencia de la Medicion en los Equipos

Los avances tecnologicos han asistido a la gestion de trabajar en equipo desde hace decadas. El uso del email, video conferencias y grabaciones de las sesiones de trabajo han estado integradas desde la decada de los 90.  Pero nunca habia sido integrada de manera tal que diera informacion util para pronosticar y transformar la ejecucion del equipo. Ahora existe una nueva manera de medir la efectividad de la colaboracion y la comunicacion en el equipo mediante el uso de un sensor que capta la comunicacion no verbal durante las interacciones de los miembros del equipo y la ubicacion espacial de los miembros. A continuacion una entrevista de Alex “Sandy” Pentland profesor en MIT,  director del MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory y el MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program, y chairman de Sociometric Solutions.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

El dinamismo de la conciencia

Alva Noë, filosofo en UC Berkley, nos presenta la conciencia como algo que hacemos en nuestra relacion dinamica con el mundo que nos rodea.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Ubuntu (Zulu/Xhosa pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼú]; English: /uˈbʊntuː/ oo-BUUN-too) or "uMunthu" (Chichewa) is an African ethic or humanist philosophy focusing on people's allegiances and relations with each other. Some believe that ubuntu is a classical African philosophy or worldview whereas others point out that the idea that ubuntu as a philosophy or worldview has developed in written sources in recent years. The word has its origin in the Bantu languages of southern Africa.

Ubuntu maybe defined as "I am what I am because of who we all are." (From a translation offered by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee.)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu offered a definition in a 1999 book:[3]

A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.

Tutu further explained Ubuntu in 2008:[4]

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

Nelson Mandela explained Ubuntu as follows:[5]

A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn't have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?

Tim Jackson refers to Ubuntu as a philosophy that supports the changes he says are necessary to create a future that is economically and environmentally sustainable.[6]

Judge Colin Lamont expanded on the definition during his ruling on the hate speech trial of Julius Malema [7]:

Ubuntu is recognized as being an important source of law within the context of strained or broken relationships amongst individuals or communities and as an aid for providing remedies which contribute towards more mutually acceptable remedies for the parties in such cases. Ubuntu is a concept which:
  1. is to be contrasted with vengeance;
  2. dictates that a high value be placed on the life of a human being;
  3. is inextricably linked to the values of and which places a high premium on dignity, compassion, humaneness and respect for humanity of another;
  4. dictates a shift from confrontation to mediation and conciliation;
  5. dictates good attitudes and shared concern;
  6. favours the re-establishment of harmony in the relationship between parties and that such harmony should restore the dignity of the plaintiff without ruining the defendant;
  7. favours restorative rather than retributive justice;
  8. operates in a direction favouring reconciliation rather than estrangement of disputants;
  9. works towards sensitising a disputant or a defendant in litigation to the hurtful impact of his actions to the other party and towards changing such conduct rather than merely punishing the disputant;
  10. promotes mutual understanding rather than punishment;
  11. favours face-to-face encounters of disputants with a view to facilitating differences being resolved rather than conflict and victory for the most powerful;
  12. favours civility and civilised dialogue premised on mutual tolerance.

Monday, April 02, 2012

La colaboracion a nivel de neuronas

Al parecer la colaboracion es un proceso que comienza a nivel de las neuronas.  Este estudio menciona como al aprender una nueva tarea se crean "clusters" de neuronas que ayudan al aprendizaje de esta tarea.  Muy interesante...

Learning New Tasks: Brain Cells Benefit From Having Neighbors
Alice G. Walton
The Atlantic
April 1, 2012

When we learn new a new task or a new nugget of information, our brain cells form new patterns of connections. This is the essence of learning. But what researchers have just found is that when brain cells form new connections, they are stronger when there is a "neighbor" close by.

The research team had mice learn a new motor task, like putting their paws through a slot to gain access to a morsel of food. They looked at what was going on in the motor cortex, which controls motor movements, specifically focusing on the "spines" of the cells' dendrites, the parts of the neurons that form synapses (cell-cell connections) with other neurons.

During the few days when the mice were learning and repeating the new behavior, some interesting changes took place in the cells of the motor cortex. The new synapses that were forming tended to form in clusters. Moreover, the spines grew stronger -- which makes for a better synaptic connection -- when there was another one nearby.

"We found that formation of a second connection is correlated with a strengthening of the first connection, which suggests that they are likely to be involved in the same circuitry," said lead author Yi Zuo in a news release. "The clustering of synapses may serve to magnify the strength of the connections."

When mice later learned a different, but related task (like grabbing a piece of pasta instead of a seed), the brain still formed clusters, but the ones involved in the different tasks remained separate. This suggests that each task forms its own clustered connections that stay in separate brain circuits. "Repetitive activation of the same cortical circuit is really important in learning a new task," Zuo said.

Previous research has shown that practice does indeed help us learn new tasks. This study adds to our understanding of the learning process by showing exactly what's going on in the brain to explain why repetition improves learning. Still, mixing up one's practice routine is also crucial to learning, since it challenges the brain to attack the task from different angles. Taking a break after you learn something new can also help solidify memories.

The researchers of the current study hope that understanding learning on the tiniest level will allow them to "find out the best way to induce new memories," which could help not only in physical tasks but also in absorbing new information in general.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Startups sin ideas pero con un equipo talentoso

La gente de Y Combinators ha estado creando "starups" de empresas desde el 2005 bajo un nuevo modelo: Invertir pequeñas cantidades de dinero ($18K por proyecto) para muchos grupos de prospectos (65 proyectos). Desde su comienzo han financiado 380 proyectos, entre ellos Loopt, Reddit, Clustrix, Wufoo, Scribd, Xobni, Weebly, Songkick, Disqus, Dropbox, ZumoDrive,, Heroku, A Thinking Ape, Posterous, Airbnb, Heyzap, Cloudkick, DailyBooth, WePay, Bump, Stripe, Hipmunk, y AeroFS.

Ahora han vuelto a revolucionar su metodo:  Los miembros de un proyecto no necesitan tener la gran idea, solo ser un grupo de personas talentosas, que se conozcan por un tiempo y que hayan laborado juntos.  El principio es sencillo, las ideas fluiran.  Es una gran apuesta al poder inherente de la colaboracion.  Aqui un escrito de su propuesta.

New: Apply to Y Combinator without an Idea

13 March 2012

Y Combinator is trying an experiment this funding cycle. We're going to have a separate application track for groups that don't have an idea yet. 

So if the only thing holding you back from starting a startup is not having an idea for one, now nothing is holding you back. If you apply for this batch and you seem like you'd make good founders, we'll accept you with no idea and then help you come up with one. (We'll consider single founders too, but we prefer groups.)

Why are we doing this? Partly because we realized we already were. A lot of the startups we accept change their ideas completely, and some of those do really well. Reddit was originally going to be a way to order food on your cellphone. (This is a viable idea now, but it wasn't before smartphones.) Scribd was originally going to be a ridesharing service. 

The other reason we're doing it is that our experience suggests that smart people who think they can't come up with a good startup idea are generally mistaken. Almost every smart person has a good idea in them. A good startup idea is simply a significant, fixable unmet need, and most smart people are at least unconsciously aware of several of those. They just don't know it. And we now have lots of practice helping founders see the startup ideas they already have. 

If you're a group of people who are really good at what you do, and have known each other for a while and work well together, we'll take the risk if you will. 

To apply with no idea, just go to and you'll find an abbreviated application form. 

We're not sure this will work, but if it does we'll do it from now on.

¿Es el Brainstorming una manera de Groupthink?

Aqui un articulo muy interesante sobre los misconceptos del Brainstorming.  Incluye los trabajos del Prof. Brian Uzzi sobre la composicion optima de un equipo.

Groupthink: The brainstorming myth
By  Jonah Lehrer
The New Yorker Magazine

In the late nineteen-forties, Alex Osborn, a partner in the advertising agency B.B.D.O., decided to write a book in which he shared his creative secrets. At the time, B.B.D.O. was widely regarded as the most innovative firm on Madison Avenue. Born in 1888, Osborn had spent much of his career in Buffalo, where he started out working in newspapers, and his life at B.B.D.O. began when he teamed up with another young adman he’d met volunteering for the United War Work Campaign. By the forties, he was one of the industry’s grand old men, ready to pass on the lessons he’d learned. His book “Your Creative Power” was published in 1948. An amalgam of pop science and business anecdote, it became a surprise best-seller. Osborn promised that, by following his advice, the typical reader could double his creative output. Such a mental boost would spur career success—“To get your foot in the door, your imagination can be an open-sesame”—and also make the reader a much happier person. “The more you rub your creative lamp, the more alive you feel,” he wrote.

“Your Creative Power” was filled with tricks and strategies, such as always carrying a notebook, to be ready when inspiration struck. But Osborn’s most celebrated idea was the one discussed in Chapter 33, “How to Organize a Squad to Create Ideas.” When a group works together, he wrote, the members should engage in a “brainstorm,” which means “using the brain to storm a creative problem—and doing so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective.” For Osborn, brainstorming was central to B.B.D.O.’s success. Osborn described, for instance, how the technique inspired a group of ten admen to come up with eighty-seven ideas for a new drugstore in ninety minutes, or nearly an idea per minute. The brainstorm had turned his employees into imagination machines.

The book outlined the essential rules of a successful brainstorming session. The most important of these, Osborn said—the thing that distinguishes brainstorming from other types of group activity—was the absence of criticism and negative feedback. If people were worried that their ideas might be ridiculed by the group, the process would fail. “Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom while discouragement often nips it in the bud,” he wrote. “Forget quality; aim now to get a quantity of answers. When you’re through, your sheet of paper may be so full of ridiculous nonsense that you’ll be disgusted. Never mind. You’re loosening up your unfettered imagination—making your mind deliver.” Brainstorming enshrined a no-judgments approach to holding a meeting.

Brainstorming was an immediate hit and Osborn became an influential business guru, writing such best-sellers as “Wake Up Your Mind” and “The Gold Mine Between Your Ears.” Brainstorming provided companies with an easy way to structure their group interactions, and it became the most widely used creativity technique in the world. It is still popular in advertising offices and design firms, classrooms and boardrooms. “Your Creative Power” has even inspired academic institutes, such as the International Center for Studies in Creativity, at Buffalo State College, near where Osborn lived. And it has given rise to detailed pedagogical doctrines, such as the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process, which is frequently employed by business consultants. When people want to extract the best ideas from a group, they still obey Osborn’s cardinal rule, censoring criticism and encouraging the most “freewheeling” associations. At the design firm IDEO, famous for developing the first Apple mouse, brainstorming is “practically a religion,” according to the company’s general manager. Employees are instructed to “defer judgment” and “go for quantity.”

The underlying assumption of brainstorming is that if people are scared of saying the wrong thing, they’ll end up saying nothing at all. The appeal of this idea is obvious: it’s always nice to be saturated in positive feedback. Typically, participants leave a brainstorming session proud of their contribution. The whiteboard has been filled with free associations. Brainstorming seems like an ideal technique, a feel-good way to boost productivity. But there is a problem with brainstorming. It doesn’t work.

The first empirical test of Osborn’s brainstorming technique was performed at Yale University, in 1958. Forty-eight male undergraduates were divided into twelve groups and given a series of creative puzzles. The groups were instructed to follow Osborn’s guidelines. As a control sample, the scientists gave the same puzzles to forty-eight students working by themselves. The results were a sobering refutation of Osborn. The solo students came up with roughly twice as many solutions as the brainstorming groups, and a panel of judges deemed their solutions more “feasible” and “effective.” Brainstorming didn’t unleash the potential of the group, but rather made each individual less creative. Although the findings did nothing to hurt brainstorming’s popularity, numerous follow-up studies have come to the same conclusion. Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, has summarized the science: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”

And yet Osborn was right about one thing: like it or not, human creativity has increasingly become a group process. “Many of us can work much better creatively when teamed up,” he wrote, noting that the trend was particularly apparent in science labs. “In the new B. F. Goodrich Research Center”—Goodrich was an important B.B.D.O. client—“250 workers . . . are hard on the hunt for ideas every hour, every day,” he noted. “They are divided into 12 specialized groups—one for each major phase of chemistry, one for each major phase of physics, and so on.” Osborn was quick to see that science had ceased to be solitary. 

Ben Jones, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management, at Northwestern University, has quantified this trend. By analyzing 19.9 million peer-reviewed academic papers and 2.1 million patents from the past fifty years, he has shown that levels of teamwork have increased in more than ninety-five per cent of scientific subfields; the size of the average team has increased by about twenty per cent each decade. The most frequently cited studies in a field used to be the product of a lone genius, like Einstein or Darwin. Today, regardless of whether researchers are studying particle physics or human genetics, science papers by multiple authors receive more than twice as many citations as those by individuals. This trend was even more apparent when it came to so-called “home-run papers”—publications with at least a hundred citations. These were more than six times as likely to come from a team of scientists.

Jones’s explanation is that scientific advances have led to a situation where all the remaining problems are incredibly hard. Researchers are forced to become increasingly specialized, because there’s only so much information one mind can handle. And they have to collaborate, because the most interesting mysteries lie at the intersections of disciplines. “A hundred years ago, the Wright brothers could build an airplane all by themselves,” Jones says. “Now Boeing needs hundreds of engineers just to design and produce the engines.” The larger lesson is that the increasing complexity of human knowledge, coupled with the escalating difficulty of those remaining questions, means that people must either work together or fail alone. But if brainstorming is useless, the question still remains: What’s the best template for group creativity?

In 2003, Charlan Nemeth, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, divided two hundred and sixty-five female undergraduates into teams of five. She gave all the teams the same problem—“How can traffic congestion be reduced in the San Francisco Bay Area?”—and assigned each team one of three conditions. The first set of teams got the standard brainstorming spiel, including the no-criticism ground rules. Other teams—assigned what Nemeth called the “debate” condition—were told, “Most research and advice suggest that the best way to come up with good solutions is to come up with many solutions. Freewheeling is welcome; don’t be afraid to say anything that comes to mind. However, in addition, most studies suggest that you should debate and even criticize each other’s ideas.” The rest received no further instructions, leaving them free to collaborate however they wanted. All the teams had twenty minutes to come up with as many good solutions as possible.

The results were telling. The brainstorming groups slightly outperformed the groups given no instructions, but teams given the debate condition were the most creative by far. On average, they generated nearly twenty per cent more ideas. And, after the teams disbanded, another interesting result became apparent. Researchers asked each subject individually if she had any more ideas about traffic. The brainstormers and the people given no guidelines produced an average of three additional ideas; the debaters produced seven.

Nemeth’s studies suggest that the ineffectiveness of brainstorming stems from the very thing that Osborn thought was most important. As Nemeth puts it, “While the instruction ‘Do not criticize’ is often cited as the important instruction in brainstorming, this appears to be a counterproductive strategy. Our findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition.” Osborn thought that imagination is inhibited by the merest hint of criticism, but Nemeth’s work and a number of other studies have demonstrated that it can thrive on conflict.

According to Nemeth, dissent stimulates new ideas because it encourages us to engage more fully with the work of others and to reassess our viewpoints. “There’s this Pollyannaish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is stay positive and get along, to not hurt anyone’s feelings,” she says. “Well, that’s just wrong. Maybe debate is going to be less pleasant, but it will always be more productive. True creativity requires some trade-offs.”

Another of her experiments has demonstrated that exposure to unfamiliar perspectives can foster creativity. The experiment focussed on a staple of the brainstorming orthodoxy—free association. A long-standing problem with free association is that people aren’t very good at it. In the early nineteen-sixties, two psychologists, David Palermo and James Jenkins, began amassing a huge table of word associations, the first thoughts that come to mind when people are asked to reflect on a particular word. (They interviewed more than forty-five hundred subjects.) Palermo and Jenkins soon discovered that the vast majority of these associations were utterly predictable. For instance, when people are asked to free-associate about the word “blue,” the most likely first answer is “green,” followed by “sky” and “ocean.” When asked to free-associate about “green,” nearly everyone says “grass.” “Even the most creative people are still going to come up with many mundane associations,” Nemeth says. “If you want to be original, then you have to get past this first layer of predictability.”

Nemeth’s experiment devised a way of escaping this trap. Pairs of subjects were shown a series of color slides in various shades of blue and asked to identify the colors. Sometimes one of the pair was actually a lab assistant instructed by Nemeth to provide a wrong answer. After a few minutes, the pairs were asked to free-associate about the colors they had seen. People who had been exposed to inaccurate descriptions came up with associations that were far more original. Instead of saying that “blue” reminded them of “sky,” they came up with “jazz” and “berry pie.” The obvious answer had stopped being their only answer. Even when alternative views are clearly wrong, being exposed to them still expands our creative potential. In a way, the power of dissent is the power of surprise. After hearing someone shout out an errant answer, we work to understand it, which causes us to reassess our initial assumptions and try out new perspectives. “Authentic dissent can be difficult, but it’s always invigorating,” Nemeth says. “It wakes us right up.”

Criticism allows people to dig below the surface of the imagination and come up with collective ideas that aren’t predictable. And recognizing the importance of conflicting perspectives in a group raises the issue of what kinds of people will work together best. Brian Uzzi, a sociologist at Northwestern, has spent his career trying to find what the ideal composition of a team would look like. Casting around for an industry to study that would most clearly show the effects of interaction, he hit on Broadway musicals. He’d grown up in New York City and attended his first musical at the age of nine. “I went to see ‘Hair,’ ” Uzzi recalls. “I remember absolutely nothing about the music, but I do remember the nude scene. That just about blew my mind. I’ve been a fan of Broadway ever since.”

Uzzi sees musicals as a model of group creativity. “Nobody creates a Broadway musical by themselves,” he said. “The production requires too many different kinds of talent.” A composer has to write songs with a lyricist and a librettist; a choreographer has to work with a director, who is probably getting notes from the producers.

Uzzi wanted to understand how the relationships of these team members affected the product. Was it better to have a group composed of close friends who had worked together before? Or did strangers make better theatre? He undertook a study of every musical produced on Broadway between 1945 and 1989. To get a full list of collaborators, he sometimes had to track down dusty old Playbills in theatre basements. He spent years analyzing the teams behind four hundred and seventy-four productions, and charted the relationships of thousands of artists, from Cole Porter to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Uzzi found that the people who worked on Broadway were part of a social network with lots of interconnections: it didn’t take many links to get from the librettist of “Guys and Dolls” to the choreographer of “Cats.” Uzzi devised a way to quantify the density of these connections, a figure he called Q. If musicals were being developed by teams of artists that had worked together several times before—a common practice, because Broadway producers see “incumbent teams” as less risky—those musicals would have an extremely high Q. A musical created by a team of strangers would have a low Q.

Uzzi then tallied his Q readings with information about how successful the productions had been. “Frankly, I was surprised by how big the effect was,” Uzzi told me. “I expected Q to matter, but I had no idea it would matter this much.” According to the data, the relationships among collaborators emerged as a reliable predictor of Broadway success. When the Q was low—less than 1.7 on Uzzi’s five-point scale—the musicals were likely to fail. Because the artists didn’t know one another, they struggled to work together and exchange ideas. “This wasn’t so surprising,” Uzzi says. “It takes time to develop a successful collaboration.” But, when the Q was too high (above 3.2), the work also suffered. The artists all thought in similar ways, which crushed innovation. According to Uzzi, this is what happened on Broadway during the nineteen-twenties, which he made the focus of a separate study. The decade is remembered for its glittering array of talent—Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, and so on—but Uzzi’s data reveals that ninety per cent of musicals produced during the decade were flops, far above the historical norm. “Broadway had some of the biggest names ever,” Uzzi explains. “But the shows were too full of repeat relationships, and that stifled creativity.”

The best Broadway shows were produced by networks with an intermediate level of social intimacy. The ideal level of Q—which Uzzi and his colleague Jarrett Spiro called the “bliss point”—emerged as being between 2.4 and 2.6. A show produced by a team whose Q was within this range was three times more likely to be a commercial success than a musical produced by a team with a score below 1.4 or above 3.2. It was also three times more likely to be lauded by the critics. “The best Broadway teams, by far, were those with a mix of relationships,” Uzzi says. “These teams had some old friends, but they also had newbies. This mixture meant that the artists could interact efficiently—they had a familiar structure to fall back on—but they also managed to incorporate some new ideas. They were comfortable with each other, but they weren’t too comfortable.”

Uzzi’s favorite example of “intermediate Q” is “West Side Story,” one of the most successful Broadway musicals ever. In 1957, the play was seen as a radical departure from Broadway conventions, both for its focus on social problems and for its extended dance scenes. The concept was dreamed up by Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, and Arthur Laurents. They were all Broadway legends, which might make “West Side Story” look like a show with high Q. But the project also benefitted from a crucial injection of unknown talent, as the established artists realized that they needed a fresh lyrical voice. After an extensive search, they chose a twenty-five-year-old lyricist who had never worked on a Broadway musical before. His name was Stephen Sondheim.

A few years ago, Isaac Kohane, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, published a study that looked at scientific research conducted by groups in an attempt to determine the effect that physical proximity had on the quality of the research. He analyzed more than thirty-five thousand peer-reviewed papers, mapping the precise location of co-authors. Then he assessed the quality of the research by counting the number of subsequent citations. The task, Kohane says, took a “small army of undergraduates” eighteen months to complete. Once the data was amassed, the correlation became clear: when coauthors were closer together, their papers tended to be of significantly higher quality. The best research was consistently produced when scientists were working within ten metres of each other; the least cited papers tended to emerge from collaborators who were a kilometre or more apart. “If you want people to work together effectively, these findings reinforce the need to create architectures that support frequent, physical, spontaneous interactions,” Kohane says. “Even in the era of big science, when researchers spend so much time on the Internet, it’s still so important to create intimate spaces.”

A new generation of laboratory architecture has tried to make chance encounters more likely to take place, and the trend has spread in the business world, too. One fanatical believer in the power of space to enhance the work of groups was Steve Jobs. Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of Jobs records that when Jobs was planning Pixar’s headquarters, in 1999, he had the building arranged around a central atrium, so that Pixar’s diverse staff of artists, writers, and computer scientists would run into each other more often. “We used to joke that the building was Steve’s movie,” Ed Catmull, the president of both Disney Animation and Pixar Animation, says. “He really oversaw everything.”

Jobs soon realized that it wasn’t enough simply to create an airy atrium; he needed to force people to go there. He began with the mailboxes, which he shifted to the lobby. Then he moved the meeting rooms to the center of the building, followed by the cafeteria, the coffee bar, and the gift shop. Finally, he decided that the atrium should contain the only set of bathrooms in the entire building. (He was later forced to compromise and install a second pair of bathrooms.) “At first, I thought this was the most ridiculous idea,” Darla Anderson, a producer on several Pixar films, told me. “I didn’t want to have to walk all the way to the atrium every time I needed to do something. That’s just a waste of time. But Steve said, ‘Everybody has to run into each other.’ He really believed that the best meetings happened by accident, in the hallway or parking lot. And you know what? He was right. I get more done having a cup of coffee and striking up a conversation or walking to the bathroom and running into unexpected people than I do sitting at my desk.” Brad Bird, the director of “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” says that Jobs “made it impossible for you not to run into the rest of the company.”

In the spring of 1942, it became clear that the Radiation Laboratory at M.I.T.—the main radar research institute for the Allied war effort—needed more space. The Rad Lab had been developing a radar device for fighter aircraft that would allow pilots to identify distant German bombers, and was hiring hundreds of scientists every few months. The proposed new structure, known as Building 20, was going to be the biggest lab yet, comprising two hundred and fifty thousand square feet, on three floors. It was designed in an afternoon by a local architecture firm, and construction was quick and cheap. The design featured a wooden frame on top of a concrete-slab foundation, with an exterior covered in gray asbestos shingles. (Steel was in short supply.) The structure violated the Cambridge fire code, but it was granted an exemption because of its temporary status. M.I.T. promised to demolish Building 20 shortly after the war.

Initially, Building 20 was regarded as a failure. Ventilation was poor and hallways were dim. The walls were thin, the roof leaked, and the building was broiling in the summer and freezing in the winter. Nevertheless, Building 20 quickly became a center of groundbreaking research, the Los Alamos of the East Coast, celebrated for its important work on military radar. Within a few years, the lab developed radar systems used for naval navigation, weather prediction, and the detection of bombers and U-boats. According to a 1945 statement issued by the Defense Department, the Rad Lab “pushed research in this field ahead by at least 25 normal peacetime years.” If the atom bomb ended the war, radar is what won it.

Immediately after the surrender of Japan, M.I.T., as it had promised, began making plans for the demolition of Building 20. The Rad Lab offices were dismantled and the radio towers on the roof were taken down. But the influx of students after the G.I. Bill suddenly left M.I.T. desperately short of space. Building 20 was turned into offices for scientists who had nowhere else to go.

The first division to move into Building 20 was the Research Laboratory of Electronics, which grew directly out of the Rad Lab. Because the electrical engineers needed only a fraction of the structure, M.I.T. began shifting a wide variety of academic departments and student clubs to the so-called “plywood palace.” By the nineteen-fifties, Building 20 was home to the Laboratory for Nuclear Science, the Linguistics Department, and the machine shop. There was a particle accelerator, the R.O.T.C., a piano repair facility, and a cell-culture lab.

Building 20 became a strange, chaotic domain, full of groups who had been thrown together by chance and who knew little about one another’s work. And yet, by the time it was finally demolished, in 1998, Building 20 had become a legend of innovation, widely regarded as one of the most creative spaces in the world. In the postwar decades, scientists working there pioneered a stunning list of breakthroughs, from advances in high-speed photography to the development of the physics behind microwaves. Building 20 served as an incubator for the Bose Corporation. It gave rise to the first video game and to Chomskyan linguistics. Stewart Brand, in his study “How Buildings Learn,” cites Building 20 as an example of a “Low Road” structure, a type of space that is unusually creative because it is so unwanted and underdesigned. (Another example is the Silicon Valley garage.) As a result, scientists in Building 20 felt free to remake their rooms, customizing the structure to fit their needs. Walls were torn down without permission; equipment was stored in the courtyards and bolted to the roof. When Jerrold Zacharias was developing the first atomic clock, working in Building 20, he removed two floors in his lab to make room for a three-story metal cylinder.

The space also forced solitary scientists to mix and mingle. Although the rushed wartime architects weren’t thinking about the sweet spot of Q or the importance of physical proximity when they designed the structure, they conjured up a space that maximized both of these features, allowing researchers to take advantage of Building 20’s intellectual diversity.

Room numbers, for instance, followed an inscrutable scheme: rooms on the second floor were given numbers beginning with 1, and third-floor room numbers began with 2. Furthermore, the wings that made up the building were named in an unclear sequence: B wing gave onto A wing, followed by E, D, and C wings. Even longtime residents of Building 20 were constantly getting lost, wandering the corridors in search of rooms. Those looking for the Ice Research Lab had to walk past the military recruiting office; students on their way to play with the toy trains (the Tech Model Railroad Club was on the third floor, in Room No. 20E-214) strolled along hallways filled with the latest computing experiments.

The building’s horizontal layout also spurred interaction. Brand quotes Henry Zimmerman, an electrical engineer who worked there for years: “In a vertical layout with small floors, there is less research variety on each floor. Chance meetings in an elevator tend to terminate in the lobby, whereas chance meetings in a corridor tended to lead to technical discussions.” The urban theorist Jane Jacobs described such incidental conversations as “knowledge spillovers.” Her favorite example was the rise of the automobile industry in Detroit. In the eighteen-twenties, the city was full of small shipyards built for the flour trade. Over time, the shipyards became centers of expertise in the internal-combustion engine. Nearly a century later, those engines proved ideal for powering cars, which is why many pioneers of the automotive industry got their start building ships. Jacobs’s point was that the unpredictable nature of innovation meant that it couldn’t be prescribed in advance.

Building 20 was full of knowledge spillovers. Take the career of Amar Bose. In the spring of 1956, Bose, a music enthusiast, procrastinating in writing his dissertation, decided to buy a hi-fi. He chose the system with the best technical specs, but found that the speakers sounded terrible. Bose realized that the science of hi-fi needed help and began frequenting the Acoustics Lab, which was just down the hall. Before long, Bose was spending more time playing with tweeters than he was on his dissertation. Nobody minded the interloper in the lab, and, three years later, Bose produced a wedge-shaped contraption outfitted with twenty-two speakers, a synthesis of his time among the engineers and his musical sensibility. The Bose Corporation was founded soon afterward.

A similar lesson emerges from the Linguistics Department at M.I.T., which was founded by Morris Halle, in the early fifties. According to Halle, he was assigned to Building 20 because that was the least valuable real estate on campus, and nobody thought much of linguists. Nevertheless, he soon grew fond of the building, if only because he was able to tear down several room dividers. This allowed Halle to transform a field that was often hermetic, with grad students working alone in the library, into a group exercise, characterized by discussion, Socratic interrogation, and the vigorous exchange of clashing perspectives. “At Building 20, we made a big room, so that all of the students could talk to each other,” Halle remembers. “That’s how I wanted them to learn.”

One of Halle’s first recruits was Carol Chomsky, a young scholar who was married to a Harvard grad student named Noam Chomsky, also a linguist. Halle encouraged Chomsky to apply for an open position at M.I.T., and in 1955 he joined the linguistics faculty at Building 20. For the next several decades, Halle and Chomsky worked in adjacent offices, which were recalled by a colleague as “the two most miserable holes in the whole place.” Although the men studied different aspects of language—Chomsky focussed on syntax and grammar, and Halle analyzed the sounds of words—the men spent much of their day talking about their work. “We became great friends,” Halle says. “And friends shouldn’t be shy about telling each other when they are wrong. What am I supposed to do? Not tell him he’s got a bad idea?”

After a few years at M.I.T., Chomsky revolutionized the study of linguistics by proposing that every language shares a “deep structure,” which reflects the cognitive structures of the mind. Chomsky’s work drew from disparate fields—biology, psychology, and computer science. At the time, the fields seemed to have nothing in common—except the hallways of Building 20. “Building 20 was a fantastic environment,” Chomsky says. “It looked like it was going to fall apart. But it was extremely interactive.” He went on, “There was a mixture of people who later became separate departments interacting informally all the time. You would walk down the corridor and meet people and have a discussion.”

Building 20 and brainstorming came into being at almost exactly the same time. In the sixty years since then, if the studies are right, brainstorming has achieved nothing—or, at least, less than would have been achieved by six decades’ worth of brainstormers working quietly on their own. Building 20, though, ranks as one of the most creative environments of all time, a space with an almost uncanny ability to extract the best from people. Among M.I.T. people, it was referred to as “the magical incubator.”

The fatal misconception behind brainstorming is that there is a particular script we should all follow in group interactions. The lesson of Building 20 is that when the composition of the group is right—enough people with different perspectives running into one another in unpredictable ways—the group dynamic will take care of itself. All these errant discussions add up. In fact, they may even be the most essential part of the creative process. Although such conversations will occasionally be unpleasant—not everyone is always in the mood for small talk or criticism—that doesn’t mean that they can be avoided. The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together. It is the human friction that makes the sparks.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Colaboracion o la Muerte....

Un estudio revela que las personas que carecen de relaciones afectivas en el lugar de trabajo pueden estar en mayor riesgo de desarrollar condiciones de salud que culminen en enfermedades terminales.  Una razon adicional para colaborar diariamente.

Getting Along with Coworkers May Add Years to Your Life

THURSDAY, Aug. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Good relationships with your co-workers and a convivial, supportive work environment may add years to your life, new Israeli research finds.

Published recently in Health Psychology, the study tracked 820 adults with an average age of 41 who worked 8.8 hour days for about 20 years; a third of them were women. Employees who reported low social support at work were 2.4 times more likely to die during those two decades, compared with their colleagues who said they had a good social support system in the workplace.

During the study period, 53 people died, most of whom had negligible social connections with their co-workers. Lack of emotional support at work, in fact, was associated with an 140 percent increased risk of dying in the next 20 years, the researchers found.

"We spend most of our waking hours at work, and we don't have much time to meet our friends during the weekdays," co-author Dr. Sharon Toker of the department of organizational behavior at Tel Aviv University in Israel, explained in a statement. "Work should be a place where people can get necessary emotional support."

Dr. Toker and her colleagues surveyed the study volunteers about their relationships with their supervisors and peers.

They found that peer or informal social support at work was a more potent predictor of health and longevity than relationships with a supervisor or boss. This effect was significant among employees aged 38 to 45, but not in those younger or older.

The findings held up even after the researchers controlled for factors such as age, sex, obesity, smoking, alcohol use, blood sugar, cholesterol, depression and anxiety.

Study participants were also asked if they took initiative at work and if they had the freedom to make their own decisions. Men did better when they were given more control at work, while women with the same amount of control actually had shorter lifespans.

Specifically, women who reported significant control over their tasks and workflow were 70 percent more likely to die during the 20-year period, the study showed. Exactly what is behind this finding is not known, but the study authors suggest that women in positions of power may be overwhelmed by the need to be tough at work and still carry out stressful duties at home.

The study authors also noted that the modern workplace often lacks a supportive environment. Many people telecommute; others communicate via e-mail even if they are in the same office. Coffee corners where people can sit and talk, informal social outings for staff members and/or a virtual social network may encourage employees to feel more connected, the researchers suggested. 

"Being happy at work can be a huge productivity booster, and happy people work better with others, are more creative, have more energy, get sick less often, learn faster and worry less about mistakes," said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a psychiatrist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who was not involved in the study. "The old-fashioned coffee break, talking to people face to face or having an employee picnic on the weekend are very good morale boosters," he said. 

However, the study can't answer whether the happy, healthy employee is the chicken or the egg, Manevitz said. Are these employees happy because they work in a supportive environment, he asked, or does their positive energy spill over into how they perceive their work place?

New companies like Google and Zappos are famous for their work hard, play hard credos, and this really speaks to balance, he said. "You don't want to play hard without working or work hard without playing," he said. These companies break down the traditional workplace hierarchies and create bull-pens where people can approach one another freely, but this only works in companies where people are not worried about losing their jobs, he said. Due to the economy, "job security has gone out the window."

Dr. Elyse Schimel, a psychologist in private practice in New York City, said that in the current economy, you have to really weigh your options. "Feeling supported and having a good work environment isn't as important as keeping a roof over your family's head and food on the table," she said. "There are buffers that can help you cope with stress including exercise, sleeping well, eating well, family support and social support," she said. "If you are in a hostile work environment, but don't have feasible options to leave, you want to get balance elsewhere in your life."

More information
Find out more about maintaining a work-life balance at the Mayo Clinic.

SOURCES: Elyse Schimel, Psy.D., psychologist, private practice, New York City; Alan Manevitz, M.D., psychiatrist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; May 2011 Health Psychology