06 February 2006

My 100th post: Working better alone?

This is my 100th post! Thanks for all the support *cough* *cough* ....

Anyway, this comes by way of MR (as always).

Time and again research has shown that people think of more new ideas on their own than they do in a group. The false belief that people are more creative in groups has been dubbed by psychologists the ‘illusion of group productivity”. But why does this illusion persist?

Bernard Nijstad and colleagues at the University of Amsterdam argue it’s because when we’re in a group, other people are talking, the pressure isn’t always on us and so we’re less aware of all the times that we fail to think of a new idea. By contrast, when we’re working alone and we can’t think of anything, there’s no avoiding the fact that we’re failing...

The researchers said “We suggest that working in a group may lead to a sense of continuous activity. This may provide group members with the idea that they are productive, because they feel that the group as a whole is making progress, even if they themselves are not contributing”.

Other possible reasons for why people think they work better in groups include ‘memory confusion’, the idea that after working in groups people subsequently mistake other people’s ideas for the own, and ‘social comparison’, the idea that in groups people are able to see how difficult everyone else has found it to come up with ideas too.

I have always (silently) thought I was more productive alone than in a group, but here are my list of reasons why group work can be beneficial.

  • As a catalyst to get one the members up to speed. I may spend hours trying to overcome a small setback, perhaps in a mathematical proof. But if somebody in the group can get me over the hump, I may be able to do the next part with ease.
  • When the task can obviously be processed parallel-ly. An oversimplified example would be if you had to solve 50 division problems. Splitting up the list will obviously be faster, even if you are typing them into Excel.
  • When you would quit as an individual and go on the facebook or *cough* blog. (Am I getting sick?) Something about having a buddy or coworker sticking it out -- though they may want to call it a night just as badly -- keeps you going. That and the red bull.
Then again my first two could be done without co-temporal collaboration. Comment on more if you got 'em, team :P.


Paparazzi said...

Congratulations on your 100th post. My comment is not strictly in response to your posting, but does have to do with groups, particularly groups of employees. I am wondering if you are familiar with peer-based oganizational structures in the work place. I am guessing that you are, given the fact that you are studying systems. I am currently reading the book "The Myth of Leadership", and I recommend it highly to you. I think this is a concept that anyone entering the workplace should be familiar with, and especially anyone who will be consulting with corporations of any size on how to operate more effectively, efficiently, and with a higher degree of employee moral and productivity. If you can't get a hold of a copy, I will lend you mine when I am finished with it.
I think groups can sometimes limit some individuals creativity because of competition and differing styles of thinking. If one person's "hot" ideas are not being acknowledged by the group or by the highest energy persons in the group, that person may get discouraged and stop contributing. Or if a person's line of thought does not jive with others, being neither right nor wrong, again, a person may become reticent to continue contributing. Often times group ideas, or group consensus, is limited to the lowest common denominator (or area of agreement) of the group. Individually, I think I often can come up with more creative ideas, so that even when the truly bizarre ones are thrown out, I may still be left with some pretty good material.

Philip said...

Interesting post. I've always been a firm believer in teamwork as a result of stand alone work and not direct activity. Hope to see you at bars.