Alone - Together / by Dan Weingrod

Photo courtesy CarbonNYC

As someone who’s been working from home, alone, for the past six months I was interested to see this article on The Rise of the New Groupthink in Sunday's Times discussing how people working in solitude were more creative than those working in large open offices or teams.  I was hoping that it would add another silver lining to my not being in a traditional office space, but in some ways it left me confused.

Lately it feels like theories of creativity and work effectiveness are about as common as fad diets, and just as bewildering.  So much of what I’ve read, and experienced, on effective creative processes has been about random collisions, collaboration and getting people to interact. The idea of the lone genius has been pretty much tossed out by smart folks like Jonah Lehrer and Steven Johnson, and now here’s an article quoting some smart psychologist sand neuroscientist telling me that I would do a better job staying alone.  Somehow I’m beginning to wonder if this whole field hasn’t reached a point of oversaturation.

Where the article really makes more sense to me, and perhaps its real target, is when it criticizes the falsely energized “team-player” mentality created to fulfill a promise of inclusion which ends up shutting out its most creative members and producing little of value. Except for maybe a feeling of false togetherness.

In the final analysis its probably all about all things in moderation and striking a balance between individual time to think alone and the ability and willingness to interact. I did very much like the point the article made about brainstorms being the “worst possible ways to stimulate creativity”. It points out what we already all know about the lack of value of focus groups. What WAS interesting was the discussion about the effectiveness of  “electronic brainstorming” where asynchronous discussion and the lack of face-to-face group dynamics made for better group creativity. Maybe this is a signpost for all of us who work alone, but should look at making better use of our connected infrastructure to build on our lonely creative potential.