The Rise of the New Groupthink is a fascinating opinion piece written by Susan Cain for the Sunday Review section of the New York Times. It makes no specific reference to libraries or publishers but anyone who has worked in a so-called “landscaped office” can relate to what she says. But Ms. Cain is not merely protesting the spread of cube farms. She has larger concerns. “SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all.” But this over reliance on collaboration forgets one thing. “Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption…” In short, the ability to quietly think and contemplate a problem gives rise to more innovative solutions. Ms Cain quotes the following advice from introvert and co-founder of Apple Steve Wozniak “Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me … they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone …. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”
Ms. Cain goes on to point out that many of our institutions have fallen under the sway of the New Groupthink. Giving examples from a offices, fourth grade classrooms and mega churches, she points to some of the negative impacts of the New Groupthink as well as how people are trying to combat them. Of course, Ms. Cain admits that some teamwork is fine. She acknowledges that “the problems we face … are more complex than ever before, and we’ll need to stand on one another’s shoulders if we … possibly hope to solve them.” What she objects to is when people are “corralled into endless meetings or conference calls conducted in offices that afford no respite from the noise and gaze of co-workers” by the New Groupthink. She makes the case that it creates unhappy, distracted and less productive people.
Ms Cain says “we need to move beyond the New Groupthink and embrace a more nuanced approach to creativity and learning” that provides the time and space for people to work in private along with the opportunity for casual, low-key, work related interactions.
Ms. Cain is a former corporate attorney whose forth coming books is entitled “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”
Editor’s Note: ATG has been concerned about this issue for a while as this post from Katina in Feb. 2009 shows.
Thu, 02/12/2009 – 06:13 — katina.strauch
Was interested to see the other day in the Chronicle of Higher Education (6/30/09) an article titled “The End of Solitude: As everyone seeks more and broader connectivity, the still, small voice speaks only in silence,” by William Deresiewicz. The article, which is very well-written and thoughtful, talks about solitude and the need to preserve integrity of self that solitude brings. Says the author, when he asked his students about solitude in their lives, he got answers like “I’m never alone more than 10 minutes,” or “why would anyone want to be alone.” This all reminds me of David Levy’s talk at the Charleston Conference, was it in 2003. Levy talked passionately about the need to take time to contemplate. David is at the University of Washington iSchool and his current research focuses on information and the quality of life. His book, “Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age,” was published by Arcade Publishing. We need to get him back to Charleston. And be sure and read Walt Crawford’s Sites and Insights (December 2003) about Levy and the Charleston Conference as well as the Chronicle article. It will get you thinking.