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Post details: Chemistry is more important than knowledge

Chemistry is more important than knowledge

An old poster of Albert Einstein with his famous dictum "Imagination is more important than knowledge" has been hanging on the wall in my office for quite a few years now. One day, in my absence, a colleague of mine pasted a Post-It note over it. It spelled "chemistry" and was carefully placed over the word "imagination".

Originally I did not think much of this innocent caper, but gradually I realized that this seemingly arbitrary alteration of the meaning actually reflected a profound truth about the nature of human cooperation. Chemistry is indeed the crucial component of every dynamic team, its invisible bond. It is the grounds for common interpretation and its absence can have disastrous consequences.

Let me illustrate this with an example.

Suppose you have two boxes of junk that must be moved to a different room. You also have a helper, let's call him Joe, who speaks the same language as you do. In this case, a simple instruction is all you need for the operation to proceed smoothly: "Hey Joe, grab this box, I'll get the other one and let's move it to the other room". Upon digesting this brief plan, Joe obligingly performs his half of the task and the boxes are transported in no time. Pretty simple.

Now let us consider what happens when Joe receives his directions in a language that he does not understand. Imagine yourself in Joe's shoes and ponder what you would do if I told you say this: "Hele, Pepo, popadni tamhle tu bednu a jdeme!" You wouldn't be too thrilled, would you? You would probably stare at me not knowing what the heck I am talking about. I could repeat my training mini-session a bit more forcefully and with a slightly raised voice, but if I stuck with the language you don't speak the results would not be perceptibly better. At the end of the day, overwhelmed with frustration, I would probably move both boxes by myself, one at a time, which would of course consumed twice the time, not counting the botched negotiations with Joe.

The moral of the story is simple. For a team to be effective, its members have to speak the same mental language, their minds have to run the same operating system. Otherwise too much effort is lost in misleading and ineffectual translations. You may assemble a group of extremely bright specialists, but if there is no natural rapport among them, if they are not on the same page, they will just be wasting time trying to understand each other's intentions.

It is in this sense that chemistry is indeed more important than knowledge.


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