Writers J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and others discussed religious and literary ideas and their own works in progress in a famed discussion group, the Inklings, which met regularly at Lewis’ college rooms at Oxford or in pubs, in the 1930s and 40s.
Of course, writers groups, support groups based on Julia Cameron’s classic book The Artist’s Way, and similar gatherings still enable creative collaboration and feedback from others.
Psychologist Paul Paulus has researched the value of group ‘brainwriting’ in which “group members write their ideas on paper and pass them to others in the group who then add their own ideas to the list,” as writer Amy Novotney summarizes.
She adds that in a study led by Paulus, “an interactive group of brainwriters produced 28 percent more possible uses for a paper clip than a similar group of solitary brainwriters. This may be because group members tend to build off one another’s ideas, leading to increased creativity and innovation. The effects of group brainwriting may even extend to groups that collaborate via e-mail, Paulus notes.”
Book: Group Creativity: Innovation through Collaboration, by Paul B. Paulus and Bernard A. Nijstad.
Ideas don’t appear from nowhere
Professor R. Keith Sawyer is a leading expert on creativity, with research in business innovation, organizational dynamics, children’s play, and artistic and scientific creativity. In a Time magazine article, he addressed questions about myths and other aspects of creative minds.
He commented, “Ideas don’t magically appear in a genius’ head from nowhere. They always build on what came before. And collaboration is key. Look at what others in your field are doing. Brainstorm with people in different fields. Research and anecdotal evidence suggest that distant analogies lead to new ideas—like when a heart surgeon bounces things off an architect or a graphic designer.”
His books include Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation.
“Teams are demonstrably inferior”
Professor of Management & Organizations at Northwestern University Leigh Thompson, PhD writes in her book on the topic, “Several years ago, I made a research presentation to a group of scholars and a few consultants. My opening statement was, ‘Several decades of research have unambiguously found that teams are demonstrably inferior to individuals when it comes to brainstorming and idea generation.’
“I thought that such a statement in the presence of academics would not cause too much commotion. I was wrong. One of the scholars was a lead consultant for a major Silicon Valley company that prided itself on creative idea generation, particularly in teams. This led to a spirited debate between the two of us that lasted through the evening and the next couple of months.
“I eventually dug up more than fifty peer-reviewed articles and put them on his desk. Every single article indicated that teams were inferior to individuals when it came to brainstorming.”
[From excerpt on her site www.leighthompson.com from her book Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration.
[Photo: Google office in Zurich, also used in my High Ability site article by Noks Nauta, Sieuwke Ronner: Giftedness in the work environment.]
Another aspect is personality: many creative people are introverted, highly sensitive, shy – or all three – and may be inhibited in corporate groups, especially with a pressure to come up with needed ideas on the spot.
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, is critical of brainstorming and ‘GroupThink’ and declares working alone is usually better than working in groups in terms of productivity and creativity.
So maybe the motivation for and specific nature of a “brainstorming” group is what matters in how well its members come up with creative ideas.