Thursday, February 23, 2012

creativity: group think or solo activity?

'I just want to be alone'

Creative people are famously loners, at least in stereotype. But in business, there is a view that ‘brain-storming’ in a group, and being constantly connected with others in an open-plan office is the way to unleash new ideas and allow people to access their inner Steve Jobs. 

In an interesting article recently for the New York Times, Anita Patil reviews some of the current thinking on this topic. She says that recent research has shown that brainstorming may be inefficient:

“The problem? Well, other people. In a group, people can tend to fixate on one idea, blocking out other possibilities, or they sit back and let others do the work. members start to mimic others’ opinions and conform.”
Sound like a meeting near you? 

Patil also points out that the creative process can have “a quiet part”. Smart ideas don’t always come from the people with the dazzling charisma. And even those people may need some contemplative time out to recharge and connect with their best ideas.

As for open plan offices, Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” is rather scathing:

“...corralled into endless meetings or conference calls conducted in offices that afford no respite from the noise and gaze of co-workers. Studies show that open-plan offices make workers hostile, insecure and distracted.”

I think that the point here is that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the psychology of those who work in offices. Some may thrive on interaction and others may cringe at the constant barrage of people. A wise manager will play to an individual's strengths, and not try to force round pegs into square holes. And with that flurry of cliches, I'll leave you to think about it. Quietly.

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