Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cool, Quiet, and Time to Think.

This article is chock full of gems, and is well worth reading:  The Rise of the New Groupthink, by Susan Cain.

A few quotes from the article:

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.
The story of Apple’s origin speaks to the power of collaboration. Mr. Wozniak wouldn’t have been catalyzed by the Altair but for the kindred spirits of Homebrew. And he’d never have started Apple without Mr. Jobs.

But it’s also a story of solo spirit. If you look at how Mr. Wozniak got the work done — the sheer hard work of creating something from nothing — he did it alone. Late at night, all by himself.
“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.”

I completely agree with this.  I have had internet friends that I have had to "unfriend" because they were brutal and constant in asserting that everything was teamwork, covenantal, and corporate.  That, indeed, there was never and could never be such a thing as an individual act, much less an individual act of brilliance or heroism.

Once, back in the early 1980s, I attend a church retreat.  One of the themes of the retreat was how we are always stronger as part of the Covenant (this was a Reformed Church in America congregation, so we used the C-word a good deal).  I'm fine with that.  I agree with that.  But the way that the outside teacher we'd hired to lead the retreat spun it, it sounded more like:  Decisions of a group are always better than decisions of an individual.  Committees are always wiser than individuals.

And so we played a little game to prove this.  A sort of puzzle was handed out.  We first were required to answer the puzzle (which yielded a score from zero to 30) on an individual basis.  We then formed into six groups of 5 people each, and pooled our answers together, filling out a new sheet with the group answers.

The point of the exercise was to prove that the group is always wiser than the individual.  But I rather ruined that for the retreat facilitator.  Although our group scored 26 of 30 points, the highest of the 6 groups, my individual score had been 29 of 30.  So, not only had a lone individual outscored all the "committees", but joining a committee had made the lone genius stupider.  Still, the retreat facilitator could have saved face, had he not made a crucial mistake:  He asked us to summarize what the exercise had taught us.  I won't relate to you what I told him I had learned, but it wasn't pretty.  I'm pretty sure I ruined his whole weekend.

In case you are wondering about the title of this blog entry, it comes from this fine song: