The New Yorker has a fantastic article on how creativity and innovation spring from group structure and social interaction.
The piece is framed as tackling the ‘brainstorming myth’ – as the well-known idea generation method has been comprehensively but unknowingly debunked many times – but the article is really much wider and explores what sort of social interactions lead to creativity and progress.
As well as looking at lab studies it also weaves in some wonderful historical examples of how diverse environments and relationships have led to everything from Broadway success to scientific advance.
A few years ago, Isaac Kohane, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, published a study that looked at scientific research conducted by groups in an attempt to determine the effect that physical proximity had on the quality of the research. He analyzed more than thirty-five thousand peer-reviewed papers, mapping the precise location of co-authors. Then he assessed the quality of the research by counting the number of subsequent citations.
The task, Kohane says, took a “small army of undergraduates” eighteen months to complete. Once the data was amassed, the correlation became clear: when coauthors were closer together, their papers tended to be of significantly higher quality. The best research was consistently produced when scientists were working within ten metres of each other; the least cited papers tended to emerge from collaborators who were a kilometre or more apart. “If you want people to work together effectively, these findings reinforce the need to create architectures that support frequent, physical, spontaneous interactions,” Kohane says. “Even in the era of big science, when researchers spend so much time on the Internet, it’s still so important to create intimate spaces.”
A compelling, comprehensive read.
Link to The New Yorker piece ‘Groupthink’.