How researchers get heard
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It’s Lonely at the Top

I hope you’ve seen the new letter in Nature showing that smaller science teams produce research that’s more disruptive than the research produced by larger teams.

The smaller the team, the more disruptive the science it produces. No matter the field, and no matter the comparative sizes of the teams.

As James Evans, one of the study’s authors, told The New York Times:

“This relationship holds no matter where you cut the number: between one person and two, between ten and twenty, between 25 and 26…If I’m writing a paper, and I partner with one other person, or two, the result is less disruptive with each person I add.”


Big teams dominate science today. They attract way more funding. They produce more research. They attract hot young talent and household names. They promise career advancement for everyone involved.

They’re safe. Suburban-grade de-risking.

And far less innovative.

So, too, with researcher thought leadership. The more people who collaborate on a piece of thought leadership content, the limper it gets.

We blame this on organizational timidity. But it might just be group-think in action, as Suparana Rajaram, a professor of psychology at Stony Brook, who’s studied innovation production from groups vs. individuals, told the Times:

“We find that the product of three individuals working separately is greater than if those three collaborate as a group,” Dr. Rajaram said. “When brainstorming, people produce fewer ideas when working in groups than when working alone.”

My experience bears this out. The sharpest, most compelling thought leadership content I’ve helped produce in my 20 years of working with researchers always has come from a two-person relationship:

  1. The researcher; and
  2. Myself or another editorial expert on my team, who helps the researcher set a goal, understand the audience and hone and polish the argument for that audience.

That’s it.

My standard advice to orgs that want to up their thought leadership game:

Set up your subject matter experts with an editorial director or consultant who a) has basic knowledge of your field or can get up to speed quickly, and b) can work freely with your SMEs to develop great content. And get out of their way.

More cooks, weaker sauce.