Solitude is out. Collaboration is in. In her recent article “The rise of the new groupthink” Susan Cain challenges the received idea “to which our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall », that « creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place”. When the zeitgeist resonates with « teams », « crowds » and « collaboration », Susan draws our attention to how important privacy and freedom are to those creative minds that are introverted… And she came to the hypothesis that solitude, not collaboration could be a catalyst for innovation and creation.
This premise seems to be also supported by Steve Wozniak, quoted as saying: “Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me … they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone…. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”
(Image source: http://everywhereishere2009.blogspot.com/2009/08/first-thoughts-designing-new-knowledge.html)
This seems like putting one’s finger in front of one’s mouth and saying “Shhhh… don’t disturb the fragile creative mind…” And it seems we have to re-build the cubicles in our open-plan offices and put a signboard in that says “No disturbing”. Does it really have to be this way?
The creative genius in us is sensitive and introverted. It doesn’t show up very often, and it lives such a mysterious life that sometimes we cannot always catch it when we need it. But sometimes it does emerge in some unexpected circumstances, when it leaves us “enlighten” with a spark of inspiration. In can be highly interactive sometimes, it can be drawn out other times, when some interesting conversation are happening or a like-minded genius is talking. So it needs to be some times with itself but also some other times, with others.
This could be the perfect model to inspire creativity: a process mixing collaboration with solitude. Creating something needs relentless « alone time » to work out the idea and make things happen, and during this time there are certain moments when it is even better to have some collaboration and conversation. These will inspire the creative mind through the exchange of thoughst and most importantly, allure the genius inside us, to come out.
The application of such a mixed model of solitude and collaboration could have implications on everything related to creativity, from the methodology of cracking innovation to seating arrangement for a creative agency. Instead of re-building the cubicle in an open-plan office, why not partition the huge meeting room into several smaller separate rooms for people who want to spend some “me” time? How about allowing people to “disappear” for a few hours when they want to immerse themselves into their own world? On the other hand, can we also make the “gatherings” and group sessions more casual and spontaneous instead of forcing “formal” interruptions when people may not be ready yet to share?
It may also make us reconsider some processes we believe, are working very well currently. As a team, sometimes we have to appreciate others’ private time and accept that they could want to create something by their own, besides always overtly embracing a « team spirit » and doing everything together. Another aspect to reconsider could be how we schedule meetings and individual working time following an agenda that respect all creative minds. Or the other way round, sometimes we leave too much space for “solitude creativity » while we may have not facilitated much “collaboration”.
There is not perfect balance but alternating between both extremes over the course of a project could certainly awaken the creative genius sleeping in all of us.