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On a recent plane trip I did like many of us do and grabbed the magazine out of the chair pocket. While skimming through I stumbled upon a very interesting article in the business section that left me pondering the very thing I thought was vitally important to the creation of ideas- team collaboration.
Leigh Thompson’s article, “Creative Peek, Trying to Find the Next Great Idea? Look here,” offers compelling research about teamwork and creativity. Thompson directs the Kellogg Company and the Group Research Center at Northwestern University.
We often work as a team to generate ideas, bounce ideas off each other, and of course gather opinions. Team collaboration is often seen as a necessity to expand ideas and we have been taught that working in groups can bring our creative concepts to life. Thompson’s research actually debunks many of our beliefs about working in groups to generate ideas or to grow ideas. This truly surprised me because many times I find myself at HirePurpose in a team, collaborating to produce ideas or find solutions.
During one of Thompson’s years teaching MBA students she should them data that was produced by a peer-reviewed scientific study that demonstrated; individuals who worked alone were superior to teams when it came to producing innovative ideas. Her students were bewildered that this research could have any merit. Thompson challenged her students to prove that the findings were wrong. Her students took the challenge and conducted their own research and in the end found that the evidence presented in the study was indeed, accurate. The students own research showed that people who worked individually produced 21 percent more ideas, and their ideas were 42 percent more original then those produced in a group.
Thompson offers three tips that can help boost the power of solo-creativity in the workplace. Even if your company doesn’t allot much time to team collaboration these tips are useful and can be applied to everyday problems.
1- Be Anti-Social.
We all know that there is always that one person in the group that talks over everyone or looks at other people’s ideas with skepticism. Then there is the opposite, the person that plays nice and will never give their real opinion because they want to be polite. Thompson relates this problem to the norms of social interaction. A possible solution to this problem she suggests is to incorporate “brainwriting,” independently writing ideas down and then discussing them. This means that the domineering person or the accommodating person can’t skew the creative idea.
2- Ditch the Group.
Many teams work together often and feel that their relationship is built on trust, which allows them to interact more freely. However, Thompson finds this to be a myth because teams can become stagnate. She found in her research that teams who switched members or added a new member- actually helped promote creativity of the original group members. She found that the number of ideas increased by 22 percent and the range of ideas by 31 percent, all from adding a new member. A technique she often uses called “speedstorming” is a simple concept to help generate creativity. The idea is that group members work together for three to five minutes, then one person moves to the left (another group), and new groups are formed. The results from these “speedstorming” sessions are quite impressive Thompson notes, allowing for more technically specialized ideas to be developed.
3- Turn off the Tunes.
A study that Thompson conducted with one her students, fitted two groups with headphones: one group got to listen to their favorite music, while the other group listened to political speeches. Thompson tested their creativity and she found that the group who listened to the dull political speeches produced more creative ideas. She concludes it’s because they were more irritable and annoyed- which made them think differently. The takeaway Thompson offers is to be active, alert, and learn to embrace annoying co-workers that might make noises that could have you crawling out of your skin, it could generate your best idea.
This idea of solo work vs. teamwork might seem radical but if we relate this to our own lives we can probably draw some pretty interesting conclusions about self-creativity. I know that I get some of my best ideas standing over the sink mindlessly washing dirty dishes. Other people get their greatest ideas running or sitting on a front porch soaking up the sun. Why, because our minds are free from the chatter, the iphone, or the social rituals of being nice. We can simply slip into that place where our mind gets to wander without barriers, unleashed from the constant restraints of everyday life.
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