Artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee.
This excerpt from Steve Wozniak’s memoir, as quoted by Susan Cain, is the driving force behind chapter 3. From Wozniak to Newton to elementary school classrooms, this chapter explores the pervasiveness of the “cooperative approach.”
On page 77, Cain interviews a Manhattan public school teacher, who said:
This [collaborative] style of teaching reflects the business community, where people’s respect for others is based on their verbal abilities, not their originality or insight.
When I read that, I was incensed. (Even typing it now, I’m fired up all over again.) I am proud to say that this statement doesn’t reflect my business community; in the online space where I do business, originality and insight are paramount. But I have seen this in my workplaces in the past, and I see it in many entrepreneurs’ gathering spaces online as well. It goes hand-in-hand with the extrovert ideal and the introvert’s struggle with being heard.
What about your business community? Is it a place where respect is based primarily on someone’s ideas or their expression of those ideas?
Collaboration and the New Groupthink
Do you ever feel like the idea of collaboration is, well, sacrosanct? In this chapter, Cain gives great insight into the origins of this movement — which she terms the New Groupthink — and its expressions in society and business — through things like open office plans and classrooms where children can’t ask questions as individuals. As she writes, “Collaboration became a sacred concept.” I feel the weight of this in my own business. Do you feel it in yours as well?
This isn’t to say that collaboration isn’t meaningful and productive, in the right context. As Cain points out, Wozniak attended bi-monthly meetings with other brilliant minds, and this undoubtedly influenced, and possibly refined, his groundbreaking work. But collaboration wasn’t his primary mode nor was it the environment that he found conducive to doing the work itself.
What’s so magical about solitude?
This idea of working alone is explored further in Anders Ericsson’s experiment with the violinists. “Elite musicians describe practice sessions with their chamber group as ‘leisure’ compared with solo practice, where the real work gets done.” Solo time is when they engage in Deliberate Practice. And it takes a lot of Deliberate Practice to gain true expertise: Ericsson estimates the investment at approximately 10,000 hours.
I would love to hear what Deliberate Practice looks like in your life, in your business and beyond. How do concentration, motivation, and prioritization align in your practice?
There’s a whole section in this chapter about work environment, and I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on that — but for now, I’m going to jump into brainstorming. I found the brain activity tests especially fascinating: that a group’s perceptions can actually change your own perceptions. At first, this seems rather simple, but when applied to not only the business sector but politics, family, the media, and various social spheres, it is rather staggering. As the author writes, “to stand alone is to activate primitive, powerful, and unconscious feelings of rejection.”
Where have you seen this to be true? What are some ways that we can foster productive brainstorming sessions while avoiding the pitfalls of social loafing, production blocking, and evaluation apprehension?
To close this chapter (and the first part of the book), Cain offers some ideas for how we can refine face-to-face collaboration. What are some other ideas? Or what are some of the author’s ideas that you’ve proven successful in your own business and social circles?