Debunking the Myth of the Lone Genius

- Keith Sawyer's Group Genius

Debunking the myth of the lone geniusWe often tend to believe that innovation is the work of  lone geniuses. In his book Group Genius, psychologist Keith Sawyer is debunking the myth of the lone genius. He explains that even though we know people like Darwin and Thomas Edison to be famous scientists or inventors, their discoveries are based on the creativity of collaborative groups. His book is filled with examples that show that breakthrough innovation is the result of a multitude of ideas and influences.

Over decades, Sawyer researched the conditions in which collaborative teams thrive. He closely studied jazz improvisation and improv to understand how creative insights are developed within a group. Based on these findings he examines how innovative teams in science, technology, and corporate organizations collaborate to be successful.

The first part of the book is an examination of key characteristics of effective creative teams and which environment enables “group flow,” which is the ability to be fully immersed and focussed within a group. Sawyer examines various methods to generate ideas as a group. Amongst those he discusses brainstorming, which is a method that is still used very frequently. Sawyer puts together an extended list of rules for brainstorming sessions, and furthermore he also shows the limitations and problems of this method. He makes clear when and how to use brainstorming and when to prefer other strategies to develop new ideas within a group.

The second part of Group Genius demonstrates how a collaborative mind is the result of an accumulation of “small creative sparks” to stimulate new ideas. The engine that drives collaboration is free flowing and open conversation. In the final part of his book, Sawyer looks for the secrets of collaborative organizations. Innovative companies don’t rely on so called creatives to drive innovation, but on collaborative teams across the organization. Sawyer lists 10 factors that affect a team’s ability to collaborate successfully and develop innovative ideas. While many of these ideas are not new or surprising, this compilation is helpful in building the right  environment for creative collaboration.

It is noteworthy that Sawyer extends collaboration even outside organizations by giving examples of successful collaboration within the web and with customers and consumers. One of the most interesting reads for me in this book is the chapter that Sawyer added in the recent edition (2017). He shares evidence that companies that don’t share their knowledge and information and demand their employees to be secretive are clearly less successful than organizations that share their sources openly. Abundance beats scarcity.

Group Genius provides lots of strategies on how to become more creative in group settings. What makes it worth the read is the enormous amount of examples from art, science, social studies, technology, and corporate organizations to backup Sawyer’s concept that creativity is always collaborative.


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