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It may be true that “no man is an island, but I can dream.  My friends think I’m joking when I tell them that if I could afford my own island and communicate with the world via the Internet and a very long-distance version of Fresh Direct, I’d go.  See ya in Google+.

So I loved Susan Cain’s article “The Rise of the New Groupthink”, which explores the notion that collective brainstorming is actually bad for creativity.  “Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.”

I didn’t research to tell me that.  I’ve sat in too many “brainstorming” sessions that result only in a more detailed outlined of the problems we’re trying to solve –and a plan to schedule another meeting.  Typically, one person talks about the problem and their ideas.  Another person echoes back when the first person said.  And the others in the room are either hearing about the need for a solution for the first time –or are acting like they are.

Since I know that, for me, ideas tend to come when I’m walking around or on the subway, or other places where I can tune out conversation, I try to structure my own brainstorming sessions by sending the team an email a week or so in advance with a description or outline of what we’re trying to solve.  I want them to come to the table with ideas.

I’d like to say that this works, but for the most part, it doesn’t.  As Cain suggests, often people are still too fearful that their ideas will be rejected. “People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure.”

Also, I don’t believe all people are creative, or at least, there are varying degrees of creativity.  Just because someone thought of a different a spreadsheet formula to use doesn’t mean that they’re going to come up with a new campaign idea.  But it doesn’t mean that they can’t.  But you can’t take everyone’s time up with meetings – just the right people.  So maybe I should try collecting ideas from those who want to offer them, and ask the most creative people to the meeting to explore them.

Cain says her point is not that people are islands; they need each other to develop greater meaning in their lives.  And I suppose the point of the creative endeavors is to have an impact on others.

But I personally would still like to be on an island.

Image:  vmiramontes


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