Creativity: best done alone?

Common knowledge these days seems to be that creativity is best achieved in groups. We organize brainstorms, workshops and week long design sprints. But is this the most effective way to create creative solutions?

Creative genius

A while ago, the definitive answer was no. The literature was pretty much on the track that creativity flourished when individuals were working alone and were not prematurely influenced and constrained by opinions of others. This is the idea of the creative genius, the lone artist, best left alone until she comes out of her cave.

Collaborative creativity

With the advent of cross-functional Agile teams came the idea that every creative effort was best done together from the get-go. More recent research findings suggest that there is indeed a place for group creativity. Collaborative efforts for instance lead you further: often you need others to get your idea completion. But when creating something creative in a group you have to beware of the risks: unequal participation, dominance, unwilling to take interpersonal risks, converging to a particular idea too early, etc.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

African proverb

Ebb and flow

So what’s better? Of course, it depends, for instance on the type of work. My take: I think creative ideas start individually. The first draft or design of the idea best starts with one person. Once the rough idea is sketched out – so it’s more than just a thought – it makes sense to share and bring in different perspectives. I believe in a continual flow of individual thinking, then collaborative creating, then back to then individual and so on.


Tips

If it starts with the individual, what can you do to stimulate creativity in the organization? Here are three arias you should focus on:

  • The right people. Attract diverse people that have shown to generate novel ideas. Foster and motivate them.
  • The right environment. Create an environment that stimulates the senses, physically en physiologically.
  • The right process. A process that supports gathering and pruning of ideas. A process that describes the ebb and flow of individual and group work.

 

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