Do you remember the time you came up with a perfect idea for your project while singing in a shower? Or while brushing your teeth before going to sleep? It might not be a coincidence, even though you thought so. It seems that productivity and creativity flourishes when we are relaxed, alone and focused on a mechanical task – that’s at least what scientists claim.
One For All – One For Himself
It is commonly believed that a group is the sum of constituent parts or greater in terms of productivity. A group by its definition consists of two or more individuals who are independent and can contribute with various actions towards reaching a common goal. Yet researchers have recently came to the conclusion that working alone might bring better benefits than working in a group.
According to Steiner’s Law of Productivity, group’s ‘actual productivity’ is its ‘potential productivity’ minus ‘faulty group processes’. Potential productivity refers to the team’s best possible performance if all members perform to their full potential, yet such “perfect” situation is nearly never achieved due to changing environments and moods. ”When an individual could see their partner actually performing the task, the partner’s performance interfered with their own performance, causing them to perform more slowly,”, explained Dr. Tim Welsh working in University of Calgary, Faculty of Kinesiology, who has just performed a new research on productivity. It could be a starting point of believing that we are better of working alone – rather than together.
Researcher claims that when an individual only saw others’ work results but not the action itself, the interference effect was no longer observed and performance as well as focus on the specific task improved. The psychology behind is that if we see someone performing a task alone and we are perfoming a similar, yet related task, we automatically imagine ourselves perfoming the task of a co-worker. This behavior is part of our mirror neuron system.
Mechanical Task + Unexpected Moment = Brilliant Idea
All of us could come up with the situation or two from our past when the best solutions to our problems came when we were alone, instead of being surrounded by people. The craziest yet the most productive places would probably be working table, shower and toilet (!) since one can be alone and focused on performing a mechanical task, which does not require thinking or specific thoughtful action. In such cases our brains are “unoccupied” and therefore “open” for new ideas, i.e. creative and innovative solutions to the problems we have.
Creativity is defined as an ability to come up with solutions and/or products which are original, useful and value adding, yet, according to Susan Cain, solitude is said to be out of fashion, since schools, companies and even our culture encourages group work instead of solitude, even though research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom. I have recently found a great article published in New York Times, written by her, Susan Cain, writer and lecturer, famous for her non-fiction book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. There’s a grain of truth in Susan’s words; she claims that psychologists who study creativity know that it requires both solitude and collaboration and exceptional creativity (i.e. exceptional ability to come up with new ideas) involves a lot of hard work (i.e. thinking), and that often happens in solitude. And, to my surprise, the most creative people are introverted – they are not extroverted enough to exchange their ideas with others…
Co-Working Might Slow Us Down
According to the author, Susan Cain, solitude is a catalyst to innovation, and has long been associated with creativity and transccendence. She also quotes Picasso’s words, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible”. Her thoughts on solitude enhancing productivity can also be supported by findings of Dr. Tim Welsh, who claims that co-working might be demotivating and slowing down.
We live in a society that worships teamwork rather than solitude. We encourage groupwork, group goals rather than personal achievements and personal characteristics. We tend to put people in “boxes” and view them as part of the content, not the content itself. Solitude is usually perceived to be a bad thing, as our whole society is built in order to serve each other in one or another way. With so many options and opportunities available to us for distraction, we generally tend to forget the value and importance of soliture and making room for thought, which is essential to sort our thoughts and find the power to regulate our lives.
But What About Brainstorm?
… I can hear you ask. It can also be argued that the activity we most often call brainstorming – the ability to bounce off ideas in a group, receive feedback and feed off of each others creative genius is something that cannot be achieved in solitude. Both are most likely true, because both serve different purposes. Brainstorm is arguably unmatched when the objective is to produce new ideas or entirely new ways of thinking, however when it comes to getting your sleeves rolled up and hands dirty it is probably not the best to be surrounded in the same environment where creativity lives. Creativeness and productivity seem to not get along too well, so best separate them. From this we can maybe draw the complete productivity formula – iterate between moments of solitude and work in groups for the maximum effect.
Alone But Not Lonely
Solitude itself is a state of seclusion, i.e lack of contact with people due to (mainly) purposeful actions. Short-term solitude is often valued as it can sparkle creativity (i.e. personl feels free and therefore has a chance to come up with useful solutions), yet purposeful long-term solitude, where any human contact is intentionally neglected, usually brings negative experiences to an individual. As mentioned earlier, persons creativity can be sparked when given freedom and solitude. Solitude should not be confused to loneliness and/or social isolation, which are unpleasant emotional responses due to isolation and lack of human contact. Loneliness and social isolation are usually involuntary and related to unpleasant feelings while being alone, whereas solitude is based on particular individual needs and wishes and are associated with intentional and positive experiences (i.e. I want to be alone, therefore I will not contact and/or talk to anyone today).
One could observe and conclude that a number of highly creative people, such as Nikola Tesla, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Albert Einstein or Franz Kafka highly valued solitude, since solitude was the only state of mind where they could use 100% of their potential as no one would observe or distract them while in process of creation.
The science of creativity shows that creative people, who do not need distraction would always prefer solitude to those, who feel good being part of the group. People differ. And so do our preferences. So question for you – do you have a method of finding solutions to your problems, and do you generally find the solutions while in solitude or in a group?