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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Thinking Together

I read an article in the 30 January issue of The New Yorker, in which the author, Jonah Lehrer, talks about "Groupthink".  The URL is here.

You need a subscription or you have to pony up some money to read the whole thing.  I would have copied it out, but not easy for The New Yorker.  If you live near Lowell I will loan you my copy.

I mention this article because the author makes three points, which might be of interest to those in the area of getting the best ideas out there.

First, research shows that Brainstorming, as given to us by Alex Osborn back in the late 1940s, doesn't work.  That was a disappointment to me, but if that is the case, that is the case.  Apparently what works better is providing evaluation and criticism along the way.  So much for the brainstorming approach.

Second, one professor looked at Broadway Musicals and trying to match the relationships amongst the various people involved.  He found that when there was no relationships amongst the production staff (Q=0), a likely critical and economic flop.  When there was very high relationships (Q=5) then the chances of success was low.  But, there was a sweet spot (Q=2.5) where some were close and some re new to each other and that is where there was success.  It reminds me of a tag line Greg Page uses on his Emails—attributed to General Patton “When everyone is thinking alike someone isn’t thinking”.  So, this would suggest staffs need an injection of fresh talent from time to time.

The third point I picked up was that buildings and physical layout matter.  The author cites Steve Jobs and Pixar, and how Jobs was always trying to rearrange the Hq so that folks had to run into each other, and thus start conversations.  The author also cites a Temporary building at MIT, Building 20, which was a place of high intellectual productivity.  Being a temporary building folks were fairly free to knock down walls and even open up floors.   The author claims that Amar Bose invented his speaker system while interacting with folks while he was supposed to be somewhere else, writing his thesis.

Final paragraph from the article:
The fatal misconception behind brainstorming is that there is a particular script we should all follow in group interactions.  The lesson of Building 20 is that when the composition of the group is right—enough people with different perspectives running into one another in unpredictable ways—the group dynamic will take care of itself.  All these errant discussions add up.  In fact, they may even be the most essential part of the creative process.  Although such conversations will occasionally be unpleasant—not everyone is always in the mood for small talk or criticism—that doesn’t mean that they can be avoided.  The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together.  It is the human friction that makes the sparks.
Thus the value of “Think Tanks” and places like National War College.

Regards  —  Cliff

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