How does your company deal with its creatives? Chances are, most American firms are going about it the wrong way. On his biography “iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon” Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak had this to say:
“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me- they’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best are artists. And artists work best alone …I don’t believe anything revolutionary has ever been invented by committee. Because the committee would never agree on it! ”
The Psychology of Creativity
Almost anyone who’s ever worked in a field that requires a significant amount of creativity would agree with the Woz. And based on imperfect anecdotal experience, I know I would. But science bears us out. According to recent studies by psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist, recently highlighted in a New York Times article by Susan Cain, people are more likely to be creative when allowed to work by themselves- preferably without interruption.
Not the most surprising conclusion- after all we tend to celebrate and honor individuals for creativity. Effective creative collaborations where the sum is greater than its individual parts, like the Beatles for instance, or the Two Steves, become increasingly rare as more participants are allowed to add creative input. Even the best design teams are often run like dictatorships subject to the will of one or a few designers, and rarely as a democracies.
If both hard science and anecdotal evidence strongly suggest creative individuals be left alone and undisturbed to do their best, why are more companies pushing for even more collaboration in the creative process?
Introverts and Teamwork
Today’s corporate culture, perhaps even culture in general, almost mandates that every action be subject to endless meetings and brainstorming sessions. Could you imagine Leonardo da Vinci or Ernest Hemingway coming up with the Mona Lisa or A Farewell to Arms had they been part of a committee?
Collaboration has its good points. Steve Wozniak wouldn’t even have dreamed of starting Apple if Steve Jobs didn’t convince him to. Studies suggest creative types are overwhelmingly introverts (again, not a surprise), so there is a tendency for them to be shy, as Wozniak observed. Shy people tend not to have the people skills necessary to be effective managers or salespeople. This is why they need talented extroverts to allow their work to really stand out. Team collaboration in this sense is crucial.
Finding the right balance between the need to collaborate and allowing overwhelmingly introverted creative types some alone time to perform their very best is very tricky. While obvious to most tasked with actually creating new things and ideas, the fact seems to escape a lot of MBAs, who are overwhelmingly extroverts.
Almost all regularly-employed Americans are part of a team, and the majority (over 70%) works in open-plan offices. Interruptions from email, instant messaging and office noise, and a work culture that increasingly values a misguided, committee-centric, ADHD-addled mindset are just some of the many roadblocks that keep your creative types from doing their best. These not only have a human cost in terms of morale- they all end up costing your company a lot of wasted time, opportunities, and money.
Let Your Creative Employees Breathe
If you require an employee to be prolific as well as original, it’s best that you don’t put them in a situation where they can’t get help but get interrupted. Keep them away from extroverts (the ones who should be on your sales team), noise, unnecessary meetings, and unfocused brainstorm sessions where they’d probably just keep things to themselves anyway. Give them an atmosphere where they could casually discuss ideas with others. And if they want it, give them privacy.
Offices should not just be about mindless lip-service to interconnectivity and collaboration – they should be about allowing everyone to do their very best.