Collaboration vs Individualism is a False Choice

by Giff on February 1, 2012

Susan Cain in the NYTimes wrote a broadside against collaboration, calling it groupthink. Now Cliff Kuang in Design.Co writes “the brainstorming process is BS.

Honestly, I don’t get the fuss. Isn’t it obvious that creativity and innovation is enhanced by both introspective and collaborative time?

I’m only a fan of collaborative idea generation sessions *if* people have done their thinking individually ahead of time. I think team meetings are particularly good at providing feedback, refining an idea, or even taking an interesting idea and making conceptual leaps in great new directions (which often should then trigger more solo time).

I’ll also admit, however, that meetings tend to decrease in productivity for every person you add over 3 or 4 contributors.

For many tasks, it makes sense to dip in and out of collaboration, whether pairing or larger group settings.

I would be a lot less effective if I never had a chance to think or execute on my own, or conversely if I never had cross-functional colleagues to collaborate with.

For groups to work, you need to create a safe environment for both sharing and critique. Pixar seems to do this quite well.

On a separate but related topic, I *have* become a fan of pair programming after seeing it in practice at Pivotal Labs for the last several months. It is the most effective way of interviewing and onboarding that I have ever seen, and I’m buying into the promise that you end up net-ahead in terms of speed and quality (as long as the personalities and skill levels work), even though at face value it seems less efficient.