Kobe Bryant and Shane Battier (Phto: Wikimedia)

What is the best way to form a great basketball team? Should recruiters select the way they do now, by choosing the best individual players from the pool of talent? Or would they be better off thinking more dynamically about forming teams as a whole?

In their recent essay in Aeon, SFI Professor Jessica Flack and collaborator Cade Massey (Wharton School, University of Texas) argue that complexity science can help us improve our strategies for building teams. As Flack and Massey explain, when we use science to help us measure group dynamics like synchronicity and synergy, we can start to capture what looking at individual talent often misses. We can detect the impact of players whose contributions are not captured by metrics that focus on high scoring stars, for instance. We can begin to explain, scientifically, why Scottie Pippin, Michael Jordan, and Dennis Rodman were a dynamite trio.

The science that can help us build better basketball teams has many other applications besides. As Flack and Massey explain, “the roles of synergistic interactions and complementarity are relevant beyond team performance to a wide range of issues – from our understanding of how drugs combine to treat disease, to how proteins function, to how monkeys manage conflict in their societies.”

Read the essay in Aeon (November 27, 2020)