No, collaboration doesn't kill creativity. Collaboration is a good thing - but there is something to be said for working out problems in our own space. On the heels of my post yesterday regarding workspaces, I found this video (below) about how collaboration could actually stifle creativity.

I think this and other articles about creativity being best done in isolation are overgeneralizing the creative process too much. Making it too "black and white." Workspaces are being designed to accomodate one extreme or another in terms of creative space methodology. Maybe it's better if they meet in the middle?

I don't think critical thinking begins in a room full of people. It starts when you are alone, going through possibilities in your own mind. There's no fear of rejection nor any outside opinions shaping your own solutions. Just you processing the creative problem in your own way. After that is done is when the group meeting can take place.

How collaboration and meetings could work

The most effective meetings are ones where people are already prepared with ideas before it starts. It rarely happens but would be ideal if we weren't so busy sitting in other meetings. Sitting a large group of people in a room and then saying "okay let's brainstorm" isn't as effective. If attendees come in with potential solutions already formed and ready to share, it's easier to build off of each other's ideas (and takes a heck of a lot less time).

Too Many Cooks In The Kitchen

I also think collaboration could be more effective if you don't have too many cooks in the kitchen. When reading Velocity a couple of months back, one quote that resonated with me was how "no good joke survives a committee of six." Committees, more often than not, are where good ideas go to die. Having a large group in the same room trying to solve one problem does several things:

  • Has too many voices. The solution isn't always the best one but the one that makes the most people in the room happy. 
  • Complacency ensues. If there are a couple of dominant voices in the room, there's very little incentive for other people to contribute their own thoughts. They either don't have to or can't get a word in edgewise.
  • Less decisions are made. Ever gone to an amusement park with a school group or to the mall with a large group of friends? There's always that moment of "I don't know, what do you want to do?" There's more time spent trying to debate an activity than actually make a decision.

When Does Collaboration Work?

  • When you have the right people in the room, not just bodies.
  • Everyone has an open mind with ideas. They look for ways different ideas could work instead of shooting down ideas because they can't.
  • When meetings have goals. If you don't establish the "why" of a meeting of more than 1, there may not be many results.
  • Serendipitously, when you aren't expecting it. When a casual conversation sparks something awesome.

Being able to have a quiet space to think is extremely valuable, something that's almost frowned upon in many aspects of business culture. Doing your own critical thinking instead of leaning heavily on a group for a decision is much more productive.

At the same time, working in a silo isn't healthy. We're human and need interaction. Sometimes when we hit a brick wall in brainstorming is when collaboration shines brightly. Talking out a creative problem with another person could shed light on solutions that may not have existed otherwise.

So how do you prefer to work? Alone, in a group or a balanced combination of the two?

While the above video is good, it can appear a bit dry. Just stick with it.