Is too much collaboration bad for innovation?

Is too much collaboration bad for innovation?

All great achievements came about through collaboration. But, sometimes too much collaboration inhibits our ability to think creatively.

Last week’s post about what impedes employees from being innovative in the workplace generated some discussion. My point that managers, meetings, emails and phone calls get in the way of inspiration was not well received because those are mechanisms we use to move ideas forward.

Yes, but most of the time you are not moving ideas forward because of those mechanisms. Rather, those mechanisms exist to keep “business-as-usual” in place.

Reflection Deficit

We are at our most creative and productive when we are deeply engaged with what we are doing, when we are in a state of flow. We can reach flow in a group, but if finding ones own flow is hard it’s harder to reach it as a group (more on this on another post soon!).

Contrary to popular belief, creativity is hard. It takes time and oftentimes the real work happens after some time of reflection, usually when we are alone either while taking a walk, driving, taking a shower or just before going to sleep.

When was the last time your employer deliberately told you to daydream more? Exactly!

NPR has a great show about Why we collaborate which features Basecamp co-founder Jason Fried, who has this to say about collaboration:

If people don’t have time to think. And thinking time needs to be your own time, then they have a really hard time actually producing great work.


Independent thinking and collaboration go hand in hand

Collaboration and exchange of ideas and insights is vital. But an often ignored fact about collaboration and innovation is that innovators are independent. For they have to collaborate, independent thinkers instinctively know that most groups will eventually fall prey to groupthink and expert-think, that naturally arise in groups. So, they have to take a step back.

Though this behavior seems unreasonable to others, it is often through independent thought that game-changing ideas arise.

Free time to connect the unconnected

Today, we are more connected than ever. There is lots of discussion about how to collaborate more effectively and there are solid ideas on how to do that, but what is lacking is some talk about how we need to disconnect from the noise. It doesn’t matter if you are an innovator or not, it goes for everyone.

People need time for themselves, to reflect. This means shutting down the phone, not checking email, cancelling meetings and not answering calls.

As I’ve written previously, to innovate you have to break free from your network. I don’t say that in a elitist way, it just means that you have to be mindful about the hidden biases that naturally arise in groups and hinder everyone’s ability to think creatively.

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