In today’s New York Times, author Susan Cain has penned an op-ed called “The Rise of the New Groupthink.” In it, she highlights research that strongly suggests that despite all the corporate hype about the importance of groupthink and collaboration, “people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.”
In her upcoming book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Cain builds on this assertion by citing numerous cases where introversion is responsible for creativity and innovation. For example, she points to well-known introvert and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who as she puts it, “toiled alone on a beloved invention, the personal computer.”
Cain does not totally dismiss teamwork. She notes its important place in the overall corporate process of exchanging ideas, managing information and building trust. Yet, she’s less sympathetic towards so-called “brainstorming sessions,” which she describes as “one of the worst possible ways to stimulate creativity.”
I agree with Cain on many levels. As I have written here in numerous blog postings over the last three years, creativity should be nurtured in the individual, and that each person’s trigger or button for creativity is different and should be highly valued.
For example, in my blog post, “Find Your Creative Place,” from April 26, 2009, I note the importance of finding that place and state of mind where you feel you are at your most creative and productive. “It may be a bench in your favorite park, a special nook or room in your house or spot in your yard, a quiet desk at a library, a small bistro table in a busy Starbucks, or a spot at work where no one can interrupt you.”
And I called on businesses to provide for a culture that encourages employees to take advantage of their most creative places to do their work, of course, within the boundaries of practicality.
I’ve also written numerous times on this blog about the powers of teleworking, and allowing certain employees, where possible, to work from home or from some other location where they could be more creative and productive.
Like Cain, I agree that a focus on greater private time and individualization is not a call for employee isolation. There still can be plenty of opportunity during the work day or during the week for team members to assemble in face-to-face groups, teleconference and video conference.
In the end, corporations have the power to spur increased creativity within their ranks by focusing attention and programs not just on the extroverts, but also those introverts who may very well be the source of your company’s next best product or service.