Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Groupthink: The brainstorming myth

Lehrer, J. (2012, January 30). Groupthink: The brainstorming myth. The New Yorker. 22-27.

The ideas presented in Jonah Lehrer's article were very interesting, especially for someone interested in collaboration and creativity.  The focus of the article is looking at different factors in group dynamics that lead to creativity and innovation. First off, Lehrer attempts to prove why brainstorming, as we know it, does not lead to the most creative results possible.  Lehrer's definition of brainstorming is the rapid listing of ideas without criticism or negative feedback.  He points to a 2003 study by Charlan Nemeth, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, to show that brainstorming with criticism actually gives better creative results!  Groups that debated ideas generated nearly 20% more ideas than the group that brainstormed without giving criticism.
***I thought this was an interesting finding because I have always followed the "no criticism" brainstorm method. I wonder about the term "creative" here though.  I agree that the team that debated had more ideas but how did he judge that they were more creative?  That seems awfully subjective to me.  On the other hand, I can see how debate could allow for more ideas.  If I put out an idea and then someone challenged me on it, I may adjust one part of the idea to fix the problem, thus creating a second idea.
Overall I am a bit skeptical so far.  It would be interesting to try this both ways sometime and see what happens. 

Next, Lehrer suggests an ideal group formation to achieve the most creative output.   Brian Uzzi, a sociologist at Northwestern, studied Broadway musicals as examples of group creativity.  In trying to find the ideal composition of a team; he discovered that the relationship among the collaborators was a reliable predictor of the commercial success of a musical.  If the collaborators knew each other too well and had worked together a lot, or, if the collaborators didn’t know each other at all, then the likelihood of success was low.  If the level of relationships was at its “bliss point” or had a mix of relationships; “These teams had some old friends, but they also had newbies,” then the musical was three times more likely as the others to be a commercial success.
***Again, super interesting but this study also left me wondering about the author's measure of creativity.  Does a commercially successful Broadway musical equal creativity?  I do appreciate the insight however on what makes a successful group.  It makes complete sense that a "mix of old friends and newbies" would make the best group composition.  I will definitely keep this in mind as I focus on collaboration in my classroom.

Finally, Lehrer describes physical spaces where creativity has been proven to thrive.  The first example of this is the Pixar headquarters.  Steve Jobs designed this space around a central atrium and moved essential rooms such as the cafeteria, gift shop, meeting rooms, and bathrooms to one central spot so staff from different departments would have to run into each other throughout the day.  Jobs felt that when people who don't normally work together meet up in these "chance encounters," more creativity and innovation takes place.
Another incubator for creativity was Building 20 on the M.I.T. campus.  This building was quick to plan and built out of the cheapest of materials.  The building was originally planned to be a short term fix to give the Radiation Laboratory more space but was never taken down and over the years housed many professional, scientific and intellectual groups such as biologists, psychologists, computer scientists, and linguists.  The mixing of these seemingly unrelated groups through the random numbering of floors and rooms and the ability to reconstruct the building to create a more collaborative space, caused the inhabitants to be more innovative.  Some of the outcomes were Chomsky's studies of linguistics, the Bose speakers, advances in high-speed photography, and the first video game.
***This section made me think of the High Tech High buildings and how they push teachers to collaborate across disciplines. I love how teachers share offices and sometimes share spaces with non teaching HTH staff.  I bet we could come up with our own stories about creative innovations that came from a chance meeting in a hallway or between schools in the village.  This also applies to students.  How can we continue to innovate around physical space our buildings and classrooms even more collaborative  for students.  Also, how can we cross pollinate students from different grades or different schools to facilitate more creative outputs.  

"The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together. It is the human friction that makes the sparks" (27).

"The best Broadway teams, by far, were those with a mix of relationships...These teams had some old friends, but they also had newbies.  This mixture meant that the artists could interact efficiently-they had a familiar structure to fall back on-but they also managed to incorporate some new ideas.  They were comfortable with each other, but they weren't too comfortable" (25).

"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" (27).

1 comment:

Kcapozzoli said...

Mindy! Now you've made me want to study the relationship between creativity, culture, collaboration and critique. What a great article. Please pass it along to me. I especially enjoyed your comments about assessing creativity. This is one of the biggest challenges in arts fields. I have always used the brainstorming list as well, so I would be interested in trying the critique method. Another strategy I think is listing questions as opposed to words and phrases.

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