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National Cancer Institute

Small Teams Generate New Directions in Science and Technology

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Wu L, Wang D, Evans J. Small Teams Generate New Directions in Science and Technology. Oral presentation at 2017 SciTS Conference. Clearwater Beach, FL. Jun 13, 2017. New Findings On What Leads To Innovation. Online at:

Recent evidence that large teams are eclipsing small teams in the production of high impact science and technology raises questions about whether and how size influences the ideas, designs and products teams generate. We argue that larger teams are better designed to solve existing problems and develop existing technologies, while smaller teams are built to generate them. Analyzing teamwork represented by tens of millions of research articles, patents, and software products, we find remarkably consistent evidence that individuals and small teams are more likely to produce articles, patents and software that disrupt the system by drawing inspiration from older and less popular ideas, while larger teams build on, solve and refine important ideas from the immediate past. As a result, attention to articles, patents and software produced by large teams is more immediate, while the work of small teams comes further in the future, if at all. We show that part of this difference may be attributable to the economy of science and technology, as more intensely funded areas of science amplify the difference between small and large teams, leading large team leaders (and members) to minimize the risks of R&D by solving prominent problems where a stable market of attention already exists. We suggest that the decline of small teams may pose challenges for the long-term vitality of science and technology.



Type of Publication:

Oral presentation


scits 2017 conference, presentation, small teams, new direction, science and technology

Addresses these goal(s):

  • Learn about the field of team science: history, theory and concepts
  • Conduct research on/evaluate team science

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Resource created by Jane Hwang on 10/5/2017 1:48:05 PM.

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