The Rise of the New Groupthink

We have all heard the phrase “design by commitee” and we all know that it means a compromised process and result. Yet there is no critique of work environments and practices that result in this group think. We think design by commitee happens in meetings attended by bosses. Could it be that it is happening in every open plan office and brainstorming workshop? 

This is the belief of Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. She published “The Rise of the New Groupthink” in the NYTimes.com

Some highlights from the article to encourage your further reading:

On privacy and productivity

Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. … introverts are comfortable working alone — and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. … introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand … … Privacy also makes us productive. In a fascinating study known as the Coding War Games, consultants Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister compared the work of more than 600 computer programmers at 92 companies. They found that people from the same companies performed at roughly the same level — but that there was an enormous performance gap between organizations. What distinguished programmers at the top-performing companies wasn’t greater experience or better pay. It was how much privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption they enjoyed. Sixty-two percent of the best performers said their workspace was sufficiently private compared with only 19 percent of the worst performers. Seventy-six percent of the worst programmers but only 38 percent of the best said that they were often interrupted needlessly.

On the open plan office

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.

On brainstorming and groupwork

… brainstorming sessions are one of the worst possible ways to stimulate creativity. The brainchild of a charismatic advertising executive named Alex Osborn who believed that groups produced better ideas than individuals, workplace brainstorming sessions came into vogue in the 1950s. “The quantitative results of group brainstorming are beyond question,” Mr. Osborn wrote. “One group produced 45 suggestions for a home-appliance promotion, 56 ideas for a money-raising campaign, 124 ideas on how to sell more blankets.” But decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and group performance gets worse as group size increases.

… The reasons brainstorming fails are instructive for other forms of group work, too. People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure. The Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that when we take a stance different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection. Professor Berns calls this “the pain of independence.”

Some advice is offered at the conclusion of the article so it’s not all doom and glom. Read it at the NYTimes.com The Rise of the New Groupthink

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