BOOKCASE : Group Genius

• Keith Sawyer
• Basic Books
• $59.99

Great ideas are seldom, if ever, singular. Put another way, ‘eureka’ is rare.
In this, his seventh and latest book on creativity, Keith Sawyer advances what he says is the supportable “truth” that “creativity is collaborative” – even when you are alone.
Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration is in many respects self-evident when you let honesty rather than ego evaluate who was involved in bringing great idea to reality. Fact is, there is drive to want to claim credit or to sheet great idea home to an individual for convenience or storytelling’s sake.
Ideas frequently emerge from network of friends or colleagues who contribute to the process as, for example, in the case of Sigmund Freud who is more often than not credited with creating psychoanalysis. And Sawyer rattles off one example after another to dispel the mythology.
Having debunked the myth, he uses the book to explain the workings of the collaborative team, how the collaborative mind works and finally, to explain the advantages of, and how to build, the collaborative organisation.
Sawyer is associate professor of education and of psychology at Washington University in St Louis. He has spent the past 15 years of his academic career studying jazz groups and theatre ensembles, small businesses and large corporations to get some understanding of what he calls the “hidden collaborations that drive exceptional creativity”. The test is both compelling and practical.
But only certain kinds of collaboration work in the real world, according to Sawyer. They are guided and planned improvisations that come together to generate unexpected insights.
Brainstorming is good example. In most organisations it is waste of time. Sawyer explains how to build brainstorming groups that realise their creative potential. Good sound advice.
Isn’t the individual mind the ultimate source of creativity? To this question he suggests that even insights that emerge when you are completely alone, can be traced back to previous collaborations.
Innovation is what drives today’s economy. We also need to find creative solutions to pressing global problems. Sawyer suggests his book can provide new insights about group genius and by using it readers can create more effective collaborations in their own lives – at work, home and in the community.
Perhaps. It’s good, easy read and worth taking seriously.

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