Develop or disrupt & team size

Large teams develop and small teams disrupt science and technology
Increases in team size have been attributed to the specialization of scientific activities, improvements in communication technology, or the complexity of modern problems that require interdisciplinary solutions.
This shift in team size raises the question of whether and how the character of the science and technology produced by large teams differs from that of small teams.

In the period analyzed, 1954–2014, smaller teams have tended to disrupt science and technology with new ideas and opportunities, whereas larger teams have tended to develop existing ones.
Work from larger teams builds on more-recent and popular developments, and attention to their work comes immediately.
By contrast, contributions by smaller teams search more deeply into the past, are viewed as disruptive to science and technology and succeed further into the future—if at all.
Observed differences between small and large teams are magnified for higher-impact work, with small teams known for disruptive work and large teams for developing work. Differences in topic and research design account for a small part of the relationship between team size and disruption; most of the effect occurs at the level of the individual, as people move between smaller and larger teams. These results demonstrate that both small and large teams are essential to a flourishing ecology of science and technology, and suggest that, to achieve this, science policies should aim to support a diversity of team sizes.

Quantifying disruption.
a, Simplified illustration of disruption. Three citation networks comprising focal papers (blue diamonds), references (grey circles) and subsequent work (rectangles). Subsequent work may cite the focal work (i, green), both the focal work and its references (j, red) or just its references (k, black). Disruption, D, of the focal paper is defined by the difference between the proportion of type i and j papers pi − pj, which equals the difference between the observed number of these papers ni − nj divided by the number of all subsequent works ni + nj + nk. A paper may be disrupting (D = 1), neutral (D = 0) or developing (D = −1).
b, The distribution of disruption across 25,988,101 WOS journal articles published between 1900 and 2014. On this distribution, we mark the BTW-model (D = 0.86, top 1%) and Bose–Einstein condensation articles (D = −0.58, bottom 3%) along with several samples used to validate D. This includes
(1) 104 ‘disruptive’ articles (disruption mean E(D) = 0.215, top 2%) and 86 ‘developing’ articles
(E(D) = −0.011, bottom 13%) nominated by a surveyed panel of 20 scholars across fields;
(2) 877 Nobelprize-winning papers published between 1902 and 2009 (E(D) = 0.10, top 2%);
(3) 22,672 review articles (E(D) = −0.0009, bottom 46%) and
1,338,808 original research articles that they review (E(D) = 0.0008, top 23%); and
(4) 148,303 articles that headline prominent prior work by mentioning
one or more cited authors in the title (E(D) = −0.0049, bottom 24%).
c, We select titles from 24,174,022 articles published between 1954 and 2014 and assign them to one of two groups, disrupting (D > 0) or developing (D < 0) articles. For the 1,033,879 words observed in both groups, we calculate the ratio of frequency in disrupting versus developing articles, r. We visualize differences in the content and writing style between these two groups in terms of verbs, nouns, and adverbs and prepositions (from left to right).
To facilitate comparison, we visualize r in green if r > 1, and 1/r in red otherwise.

A universal pattern systematically differentiates the contributions of small and large teams in the creation of scientific papers, technology patents and software products.
Small teams disrupt science and technology by exploring and amplifying promising ideas from older and less-popular work.
Large teams develop recent successes, by solving acknowledged problems and refining common designs.
Some of this difference results from the substance of science and technology that small versus large teams tackle, but the larger part appears to emerge as a consequence of team size itself. Certain types of research require the resources of large teams, but large teams demand an ongoing stream of funding and success to ‘pay the bills’, which makes them more sensitive to the loss of reputation and support that comes from failure.
Small groups with more to gain and less to lose are more likely to undertake new and untested opportunities that have the potential for high growth and failure.
Individuals in large groups think and act differently from those in small groups.
Both small and large teams are essential to a flourishing ecology of science and technology.

Visualizing disruption.
a, Citation tree visualization that illustrates the visual influence of focal papers, drawing on past work and passing ideas onto future work. ‘Roots’ are references and citations to them, with depth scaled to their publication date; ‘branches’ on the tree are citing articles, with height scaled to publication date and length scaled to the number of future citations. Branches curve downward (brown) if citing articles also cite the focal paper’s references, and upward (green) if they ignore them.
b, Two articles (the Bose–Einstein condensation and BWK-model articles) of the same impact scale represented as citation trees, to illustrate how disruption distinguishes different contributions to science and technology.
c, Citation tree visualization that characterizes the visual influence of eleven focal papers from teams of different sizes. Disruption (D), citations (N), published year (Y) and team size (m) of papers are shown in the bottom left corner of each

Could not resist to bring up the famous African proverb, with similar message:

Walk alone you go fast,
walk together you go far

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