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Group Genius Over Groupthink

Thoughts

By Kelly Leonard – Executive Director of Insights and Applied Improvisation

In his book, “Group Genius,” professor Keith Sawyer reminds us that the idea of “brainstorming” is a relatively recent phenomenon. The term was coined by BBDO advertising partner Alex Osborn in the 1950’s. Today, there are piles of academic research that note the perils of brainstorming turning into groupthink. What’s wrong with groupthink? Sawyer describes it as a situation “…where a team of smart people ends up doing something dumber than they would have done if they had been working on their own.” Compromise, topic fixation, social inhibition, production blocking: all these elements are in play when groups of people are thrown in a room to brainstorm.

It is entirely unreasonable to think that you can simply throw a bunch of coworkers into a room and expect scads of creativity to emerge because they are in the same place at the same time.

It would be easy to suggest, then, that a higher degree of creativity can occur when individuals are acting alone than within a larger group. And there are many, many people who believe so. But our experience is different and the data that Dr. Sawyer highlights also presents a different picture.

“In improvised innovation, a collective product emerges that could not even in theory be created by an individual,” Sawyer writes. He goes on to say that groups “…often work better for the complexity of the real world – where new ideas are complex combinations of prior ideas, where the task is new and unfamiliar to the group members, and where new ideas often depend on visualization and abstraction.”

The key difference here is that it is entirely unreasonable to think that you can simply throw a bunch of coworkers into a room and expect scads of creativity to emerge because they are in the same place at the same time.

However, give that group training in giving and taking focus, in empathetic listening, in a “yes, and” orientation towards idea building – give that group a foundation in improvisational practice – and you will have given them the keys that unlock the doors of creativity that inevitably lead to innovation.

It’s true that the individual mind plays a special role at the center for the creative process. But your own mind is more social then you realize.

Too often we forget the essence of duality that is almost always at play in the world. It is vital that we tend to both the individual and the group. As Keith Sawyer notes, “It’s true that the individual mind plays a special role at the center for the creative process. But your own mind is more social then you realize.”

You can listen to my interview with Dr. Keith Sawyer here. 

Tags
consumer insights,  why improv

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