Likeminded individuals who are working in relatively close proximity to each other are more likely to devise better solutions to problems, in the course of their random interactions over a period of time, than are a group of people who are forcefully brought together – in say a meeting situation – to brainstorm.
The fatal misconception behind brainstorming is that there is a particular script we should all follow in group interactions. The lesson of Building 20 is that when the composition of the group is right – enough people with different perspectives running into one another in unpredictable ways – the group dynamic will take care of itself. All these errant discussions add up. In fact, they may even be the most essential part of the creative process. Although such conversations will occasionally be unpleasant – not everyone is always in the mood for small talk or criticism – that doesn’t mean that they can be avoided. The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together. It is the human friction that makes the sparks.
The larger lesson is that those sleepy students, like a brain-damaged patient, benefit from the inability to focus. Their minds are drowsy and disorganized, humming with associations that they’d normally ignore. When we need an insight, of course, those stray associations are the source of the answer.
But it’s one thing to associate with a group in which each member works autonomously on his piece of the puzzle; it’s another to be corralled into endless meetings or conference calls conducted in offices that afford no respite from the noise and gaze of co-workers. Studies show that open-plan offices make workers hostile, insecure and distracted. They’re also more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, stress, the flu and exhaustion. And people whose work is interrupted make 50 percent more mistakes and take twice as long to finish it.
Middle age appears to be the ideal age, at least according those over 65, who when asked what age they considered to be the most desirable period of life, choose their 40s and 50s, over, surprisingly perhaps, their 20s or 30s. It’s also a view shared by many creatives who feel they do their best work during their 40s and 50s:
Countless writers, filmmakers, musicians, poets and painters have expounded on the artistic insight of midlife. “I’m glad I didn’t get a chance to make movies in my 20s or 30s because I was a very bad writer,” said Paul Haggis, who was in his 50s when he wrote screenplays for the Oscar-winning films “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash” (the latter he also directed).
My experience as a parent is consistent with the idea that teachers don’t like creative students but I try not to blame the teachers too much. Creative people, for better and worse, ignore social conventions. Thus, it can be hard for teachers to deal with creative students in a classroom setting where they must guide 20-30 students en masse.
A tricky situation. If a child is identified as being gifted creativity perhaps they should receive tutoring that more is suited to their individual needs, though of course that is far easier to say than do.
The result? Those reporting higher creativity on their measures chose “right” in ambiguous trials more frequently (i.e., they were more dishonest). OK, but maybe this effect isn’t about creativity. Maybe it also has to do with intelligence. In their second study, they tested this possibility by adding measures of “intelligence”: cognitive reflection and vocabulary. They also added a few more measures of dishonesty. Again, creativity was positively related to dishonesty. There was no link, however, between creativity and their measures of intelligence, nor a link between intelligence and dishonesty.
Since we’re all creative in one way or another, even if we don’t believe we are according to the common definition of the word – for instance if you can solve problems you then are creative – this is an article everyone should read:
If you are good at what you do, then you work – or seek to work – with other people who kick ass too. If you suck, then you put yourself around sucky people to feel better about yourself. If you want to be the best, seek to be around awesome people – be it other artists, assistants, producers, clients, partners, whatever. Shoot high. Shoot for better than yourself.
In the final stage of creativity, the left hemisphere reasserts its dominance. This stage is about challenging and testing the creative breakthrough you’ve had. Scientists do this in a laboratory. Painters do it on a canvas. Writers do it by translating a vision into words. The first key to intentionally nurturing our creativity is to understand how it works. I’ve found the stages often unfold in unpredictable sequence, and wrap back on one another. Still, keeping them in mind lets me know where I am in the creative process, and how to get to where I need to go.