[Paleopsych] NS: Creativity Special (thoughts on group thinking)

Todd I. Stark thrst4knw at aol.com
Mon Nov 14 15:17:32 UTC 2005

One of the most interesting points I took away from this issue of NS was 
the finding they reported regarding "brainstorming."  This is usually 
proposed in business as a group dynamic, where people's ideas are 
assumed to trigger other ideas from other people.  From experience, I've 
found this to be largely untrue.  Whenever the issue is one that is 
important to people, they can't seem to avoid censoring themselves and 
each other rather than triggering creative new combinations.  The theory 
that people can "think together" just doesn't seem to pan out under most 
conditions, except where the "thinking" is a very primitive form of mob 

But that is just my limited experience.  One of the articles mentioned 
that brainstorming has also been found experimentally to work better 
when people come up with ideas individually first and then get together 
to evaluate them.  Other research shows that groups tend to make 
slightly better decisions than the average decision maker in the group, 
but worse than the best decision maker in the group.  So working closely 
with other people in making decisions seems to bring us down roughly to 
the group average.  Not exactly the ideal of "synergy" that we would 
like to strive for.

I suspect this is right, because the creative process occurs more within 
individual minds than within the communication media we use.  A similar 
misconception occurs in business in "knowledge management."  In our zeal 
to represent knowledge by using external networks we lose track of how 
sophisticated and different the network of knowledge *within* the human 
mind really is. Groups can certainly share _information_, but knowledge 
is really still within individuals rather than being anything stored 
externally at this point.  Network properties are interesting but 
networks in an animal brain are of a qualitatively different sort than 
those that we use to connect ourselves together.

It's hard enough to get people to talk to each other openly, much less 
"collaborate" more efficiently through the use of information 
technology.  The better we connect ourselves, the less we seem to think 
as individuals, so we often and perhaps often rightly resist group 
processes that supposedly improve on individual thinking.

kind regards,


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