Exploration Into The Creative Process

January  26,  2012 / By Tony Signore

Every weekend, there’s at least one column in The New York Times that serves as a catalyst for more in-depth research, and last Sunday it was Susan Cain’s opinion piece entitled, “The Rise of the New Groupthink.” Cain, an introversion expert and the author of “QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” utilized Sunday Review as her platform to substantiate her claim that solitude, not collaboration, leads to greater creative output.

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Those of you who know how I’m wired may have speculated that a piece as stimulating as this might interrupt my Sunday morning routine. You know me well. I pushed the broadsheet aside after reading her cover story, reached for the iPad, and for nearly two hours found myself immersed in commentary from teachers, lawyers, copywriters, psychologists, creative directors, students and dozens of curious folks from Cambridge, MA to Berkeley, CA.

As marketers, we’ve devoured plenty of books, white papers and case studies on innovation that clearly contradict Cain’s position. At Taylor, for example, we often espouse the benefits of true collaboration — especially as it relates to fostering creativity — so what do we make of all this? Well, I’m pleased to inform you that the vast diversity of feedback consumed that morning actually sparked an idea!

Next month, we’ll delve deeper into this polarizing topic during a special Town Hall meeting as Taylor will host a lively debate for colleagues and special guests (details to follow).

Now in order to help you prepare for an open and provocative discussion on the creative process, I have highlighted below a selection of readers’ comments (including a supplemental blog post by a teacher) along with an e-mail thread with long-time consultant, Barry Collodi; a man who consumes and shares as much information as anyone I’ve ever met. And while my exchange with Barry (and Times public editor, Arthur Brisbane) expressed displeasure with Cain’s approach, it’s important to note I’m aligned with her thinking in a few key areas, particularly the fact that far too often brainstorming is unstructured, undisciplined and therefore, ineffective. I’m excited to join you for this session as I believe there are many elements for us to explore and uncover during a debate on such an intriguing and most relevant topic.

From: Barry Collodi
To: Tony Signore
Sunday January 15th 9:24 AM

“…….a fascinating article”

From: Tony Signore
To: Barry Collodi
Sunday January 15th at 9:44 PM

“Barry, not so fast…While Susan makes some valid points, it’s totally one-sided (I know she has the right….it’s an “Opinion” piece). I will provide some balance for the uninformed with a sprinkling of Keith Sawyer, Morten Hansen and my guy, Jim Collins.”

From: Barry Collodi
To: Tony Signore
Sunday January 15th at 9:53 PM

“Actually, think about a letter to the editor. The article was the lead in the NY Times Sunday Review section. Could be fun.”

From: Tony Signore
To: Barry Collodi
Sunday January 15th at 10:11 PM

“I fired a note to Arthur Brisbane earlier. While her (Susan Cain) piece is not factually incorrect, she stacks “all her research on the subject” to support her POV. Seven months ago she wrote a Times opinion piece on introverts and used some of the same material, specifically about Wozniak.

I applaud her for all the counsel she provides on introversion but in this piece she is stretching it too far.”

Selected Comments from the piece, The Rise of the New Groupthink

Jeffrey G. Johnson, Clovis, New Mexico:

“…All fads are like popularity contests, where people are asked if they prefer A or B. This is as absurd as the nature vs. nurture debate. There is always obvious interplay and feedback that makes both elements essential.”

Sarah D., Montague, Massachusetts:

“…Collaboration has proven significantly effective in many situations. So has lone-wolf privacy. Both make contributions, and one way does not have to be demonized in order to support the other. Many highly creative people work best in solitude, but most people are not creative geniuses, and sticking them (us) in offices or cubicles away from others is not going to change that fact. The author’s bias is too much here.”

Jmacq, Roanoke, Virginia:

“…what Ms. Cain is leaving out is research and experience around the development and use of collaborative methodologies and methods…Brainstorming can be a wonderfully creative activity leading to phenomenal results if it’s done with the structure its inventors imagined…Most meetings ARE time wasters and much of what passes for collaboration isn’t and doesn’t work. This occurs, however, because, in this culture, there are techniques, structures, and disciplines required to pull it off.”

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