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Developing Creativity in Solitude

“Creativity is always collaborative, even when you’re alone.” Keith Sawyer

“Artists work best alone.” Steve Wozniak

Different kinds of creative expression have different needs in terms of solitude versus collaboration.

In my post Creative collaboration, for example, actor Keith Powell of the TV series ”30 Rock” comments about the atmosphere of the writers room for the show – a common example of collaboration in the creative development of many art and entertainment projects. Movies and TV shows involve dozens, even hundreds of people at a time.

In the same article, I note that Professor Keith Sawyer writes in his book Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration that “creativity is always collaborative, even when you’re alone.”

Steve Wozniak of Apple once commented, “Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me. They’re shy and they live in their heads. The very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone…

That is a quote in my post Creative Introverts, which also quotes writer Susan Cain, who notes that psychologist Gregory Feist (a Professor at San Jose State University) “found that many of the most creative people in a range of fields are introverts who are comfortable working in solitary conditions in which they can focus attention inward.”

She continues that theme in a recent NYTimes article. Here is an excerpt:

Solitude is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone — and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck observed, introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.”

In other words, a person sitting quietly under a tree in the backyard, while everyone else is clinking glasses on the patio, is more likely to have an apple land on his head. (Newton was one of the world’s great introverts: William Wordsworth described him as “A mind for ever/ Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.”)

Continued in The Rise of the New Groupthink, By Susan Cain, New York Times, January 13, 2012.

Susan Cain is author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Two of my related posts:

Nurturing creativity in solitude.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Collective Creation.

Book: Orchestrating Collaboration at Work: Using Music, Improv, Storytelling, and Other Arts to Improve Teamwork, by Arthur VanGundy, Linda Naiman. – “Organizations need teams to produce creative products, just as artists need the tools of their work.”

Photo: a lonely artist(Explored) – By SamikRC.

Why did the photographer choose ‘lonely’ in their title? Maybe it is another example of how, in this gregarious and extroverted culture, solitude is often considered ‘wrong’ and aloneness must be lonely. But it isn’t for many of us, of course.

Developing Creativity in Solitude

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2013). Developing Creativity in Solitude. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 18, 2018, from


Last updated: 23 Aug 2013
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Aug 2013
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