Mixing it Up, the Bad
Sunday I read an essay that curiously contradicted the assumed benefits of collaboration. Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, exposes research that shows solitude improves productivity and creativity. While Susan spends a bit of time discussing this in the context of introverts, I believe, her principle point is that group think does not promote the full participation or creativity of its members. We actually tend to develop fuller ideas in solitude rather than collaborative settings. Why then have we allowed the average space per employee to drop from 500 square feet in the 1970s to 200 square feet in 2010? Moreover, we seldom provide quiet areas for personnel to have real privacy which research shows would improve productivity.
Luckily, the Broadvox offices in Dallas, Cleveland and Atlanta have lots of available space for personnel to find solitude. I now better understand why some people sequester themselves in one of our conference rooms or empty offices.
As a marketing person it was also interesting to discover that brainstorming as a group is the worst way to stimulate creativity and participation. Brainstorming fails because some people (introverts) tend to allow others (extroverts) to make the most suggestions, some individuals move towards agreeable positions without commitment and some members of a group worry about demonstrating social conformity. Apparently, taking a stance different from the group activates the amygdala, a portion of the brain associated with emotion, in this case, the fear of rejection.
Cain goes on to point out that collaboration when members are geographically dispersed appears to be the most effective way to develop new ideas and foster creativity. Given that a tenet of Unified Communications is collaboration, the idea that individuals work best in solitude is anathema to our value proposition. However, Cain is not promoting the elimination of collaboration. Instead, my take away from her writing is the need to provide some privacy and solitude in the work place to maximize performance. Like much in life, there needs to be a balance of open and closed spaces, interaction and separation, and collaboration and solitude.