Collaboration for introverts

How can we be more creative? This is a central question of innovation.

A common answer is “more collaboration”. Creativity comes from a diversity of voices from which we can mix and re-mix ideas – adding novel elements and incorporating suggestions from others.

Yet a recent NYT article suggests that the most creative people are introverts, and the most brilliant ideas are developed in isolation, by lone creators who shun collaboration.

So which is correct? Does innovation and creativity stem from “alone time”? Or is it a product of group collaboration?

Our work at Imaginatik suggests that both are “correct” – but in different ways. Collaboration is useful, for at least two reasons. First, it enhances our ability to share ideas and information. Second, we benefit from others’ approaches to problem-solving and critical thinking.

Individual creation is also crucial. In a brainstorming meeting, a wide set of ideas and perspectives can be surfaced – but someone in particular must “put it all together”. This cannot be accomplished in committee. Building a synthetic whole is necessarily solitary work.

The magic formula rests on how you mix collaboration with individualism. Here’s two examples of how this works:

  • Facilitation. Unstructured brainstorming can lead to fuzzy results. A skilled facilitator helps support both group sharing and individual refinement. Ideas and perspectives are shared, while creative introverts are given space to connect the dots.
  • Rhythm. “Lone genius” types are not truly loners. Rather, they absorb information and stimuli, and then assemble the pieces heads-down. Organizations benefit by building a “creativity” process rhythm that feeds nuggets to creative introverts, and then sends feedback once the creation has been assembled.

Encourage the right balance in the workplace, and you will see creativity and innovation flourish across your organization.

Thanks for highlighting the

Thanks for highlighting the NYT Groupthink article. Yes, it's true, decades of well-designed studies do show that solitary work beats traditional brainstorming every time. But note what the NYT article says at the end: "The one important exception.. is electronic brainstorming, where large groups outperform individuals; and the larger the group the better."

Among other reasons (and there are several), the most significant is that electronic ideation is parallel rather than serial: it removes "blocking", where only one person can talk at a time and the others can't really think new thoughts while that's happening. Since most ideas are mediocre, blocking quickly erodes the outcome of a face-to-face brainstorm.

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