The law of two women

My impressive wingspan.
My impressive wingspan.

During my internet-free week I did many other things including reading The Secrets of Happy Families, by Bruce Feiler. I chose it because it was one of the few physical books in my (largely electronic) pile. (My week was both internet and screen free, save for a few consultations with my phone for GPS, calls, and, I will confess, a total of four texts.) It was good fortune, and in hindsight obvious, that this was an excellent choice for a week with my family in a secluded cabin in Maine.

Feiler read scores of self-help books and talked to as many experts and compressed and consolidated their advice and ideas into one book so you don’t have to. He covers a wide range of topics, from money to reunions, from sex to conflict, drawing on diverse sources like corporate management approaches and military lessons in unit cohesion. The unifying theme is identifying potential strategies to help families be happier. Even if not all the ideas are sound or feasible for your family — there are so many nobody could implement them all anyway — it’s a worthy goal and they serve as good jumping off points to develop approaches tailored to you and yours.

My wife's tree and sky in sand.
My wife’s tree and sky in sand.

I thought it got better as I read deeper. I was also in the perfect mental space for it. In short, I recommend it.

Happy Families is also evidence based. Below is just a sample to illustrate the style. It’s also one of my favorite passages. Apparently, meetings at Google must include two women: the law of two women. Feiler explains why.

In 2010, a group of researchers from Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and Union College published a study in Science called “Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups.” The scientists scrupulously analyzed 699 people, working in groups of two or five, and tried to determine whether “collective intelligence” exists, and if so, what causes it. After finding that the groups did make better decisions than the individuals, the researchers moved on to the second question, and their results surprised even themselves.

Two factors mattered most, they found. First, groups in which a few people dominated discussions were much less effective than groups where everyone spoke up. Second, groups that had a higher proportion of females were more effective. These groups were more sensitive to input from everyone, more capable of reaching compromise, and more efficient at making decisions.

These researchers are not alone. A growing body of evidence from an eclectic cross section of disciplines has shown that having more women on teams makes the teams work better. In 2006, researchers at Wellesley conducted extensive research on women on the boards of Fortune 1000 companies. Their report, entitled “Critical Mass on Corporate Boards: Why Three or More Women Enhance Governance,” found that a lone woman on a board can make a substantial contribution, but two are better than one. Reaching the threshold of three, meanwhile, makes it more likely the women are heard. Why? As lead researcher Sumur Erkut summed up the findings, “Women bring a collaborative leadership style that benefits boardroom dynamics by increasing listening, social support and win-win problem solving.”

Similar results have been shown in the legal profession among judges. A study out of the University of California, Berkeley, found that the presence of at least one woman on a three-member panel of federal judges breaks the polarizing instinct of the men and makes the body more deliberative; when two women are seated on the panel, the effect was even greater.

These studies [] are consistent with a large body of research in recent decades that shows women are wired to be more cooperative, more sensitive to other people’s emotions, and more interested in building consensus. […] If you’re making a complex decision, the more women you have in the conversation, the easier time you’ll likely have in reaching a final decision that makes everyone happy. [Hyperlinks added.]


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