Last year, when I read and listened to Susan Cain’s perspective on groupthink and introversion, it was perhaps the first time that I’d ever felt that it was okay to be an introvert, okay to have a preference for solitary work over teamwork.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m saying that I never want to collaborate with others. No that’s not it at all. But my feeling is that a successful team requires a delicate equilibrium of individual effort and partnership. An imbalance of either will lead to a failed group.
She draws from Steve Wozniak’s memoirs (just in case you don’t know, he was the inventor of the PC). Wozniak, by the way, vociferously campaigns for what I call the ME over WE – “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.”
Cain goes on to speak about the new wave of collaboration and Groupthink, that “has overtaken our workplaces, our schools and our religious institutions…” demanding that more and more of our time be spent working on or as teams. I like to refer to it as the work of WE.
Interestingly, Cain argues for a hybrid rather than an abolishment of either independent work or team work – “… most humans have two contradictory impulses: we love and need one another, yet we crave privacy and autonomy. To harness the energy that fuels both these drives, we need to move beyond the New Groupthink and embrace a more nuanced approach to creativity and learning. Our offices should encourage casual, cafe-style interactions, but allow people to disappear into personalized, private spaces when they want to be alone. Our schools should teach children to work with others, but also to work on their own for sustained periods of time.”
And how fascinating it was for me attending yesterday’s Advertising Educational Foundation Symposium, to hear David Eastman, CEO of JWT North America echo similar sentiments as he responded to a question about the new movement toward open concept floor plans in ad agencies. While he recognized the special energy that comes from working as a team, he urged the need to respect solitary work for creativity as well.
Like Cain and Eastman, I wholeheartedly believe that there is a time and space for ME and WE. One cannot be truly successful without the other. I am delighted to have the evidence of a proven case (a recent team project that I was assigned) to substantiate this. My colleagues and I were able to find a good balance between independent thought and group collaboration, and the final product was superb. One where each individual’s strengths were maximized, yet the result was cohesive and greater than the sum of its part.
In case you’d like to hear it from Cain herself, take time to read her NY Times Op Ed: The Rise of the New Group Think or watch her Ted Talk session. If what she says about introversion resonates with you too, I invite you to embrace her advice to just BE. Surely our world and our teams need us introverts too. And if you’d like to talk more about it, come find me in my corner.
And oh yeah, long live ME and WE!