Just spotted a great article by Susan Cain on solitude and the power of creativity in the NY Times.

Loved these:

Solitude has long been associated with creativity and transcendence. “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible,” Picasso said. A central narrative of many religions is the seeker — Moses, Jesus, Buddha — who goes off by himself and brings profound insights back to the community.

The author also uses the story of the birth of Apple Computer to explain why the introverted Steve Wozniak was central to the creative power of early Apple.

That may be so, but Wozniak himself admitted that his creations would have been nothing without Steve Jobs being able to connect the dots and making his creations commercially viable.

There is not doubt that introverts in creative companies, the so-called back-room workers, are key to any of those companies’ output (the incredibly shy Charles Saatchi as one example – so shy that he would pretend to be a janitor if he encountered clients in the agency) but it also takes the synthesis of a the connectors to lift ideas into the sphere where execution is possible. And ideas are nothing without embodiment – or execution.

The next interesting quote:

Conversely, brainstorming sessions are one of the worst possible ways to stimulate creativity. The brainchild of a charismatic advertising executive named Alex Osborn who believed that groups produced better ideas than individuals, workplace brainstorming sessions came into vogue in the 1950s. “The quantitative results of group brainstorming are beyond question,” Mr. Osborn wrote. “One group produced 45 suggestions for a home-appliance promotion, 56 ideas for a money-raising campaign, 124 ideas on how to sell more blankets.”

But decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and group performance gets worse as group size increases. The “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” wrote the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”

In my view great ideas to come from the individual, but groups make them better. That is why brainstorming sessions where teams can work alone before bringing their ideas into a wider network work better. One needs a good understanding of the pro’s and con’s of both individual and group work to get the best out of your teams. Perhaps the author agrees in her conclusion about Steve Wozniak’s time at HP:

Before Mr. Wozniak started Apple, he designed calculators at Hewlett-Packard, a job he loved partly because HP made it easy to chat with his colleagues. Every day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., management wheeled in doughnuts and coffee, and people could socialize and swap ideas. What distinguished these interactions was how low-key they were. For Mr. Wozniak, collaboration meant the ability to share a doughnut and a brainwave with his laid-back, poorly dressed colleagues — who minded not a whit when he disappeared into his cubicle to get the real work done.

Read the full article here.


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