The belief that working in teams makes us more creative is so widespread that we’ve stopped listening to our instincts. Solitude is out of fashion… but I’m here today to encourage you to listen to your instincts and be alone for a bit.
Ever since kindergarten we’re taught to share, we’ve spent years at school solving issues in teams and now we work in offices without walls where we’re encouraged to brainstorm and reach synergistic goals to enhance each other’s creative capabilities. But what if I told you… it’s all wrong?
What if I told you that years of learning the meaning of teamwork has taught me that you should be spending more time alone?
Does being alone enable you to be more creative, effective and productive?
“We work collaborating and communicating with each other”… that’s what they’d say as they showed me my brand-new work laptop and a fancy stand-up table in a circle office with glass walls.
“We work together, we have lunch together and we encourage teamwork, which means you have to attend team meetings every day and meetings with the person you report to weekly. It makes us more creative.”
I remember my head buzzing around trying to calculate how much time it actually takes just to prepare for these meetings alone.
“Is that a normal practice here?” I wondered, looking around. I felt my brows meeting in one vivid unibrow showing disbelief in my future work practices.
“Yes it is”, my colleague answered with the brightest smile possible.
Back then even my extroverted soul wanted to crumble and hide. Does that mean… I’ll actually be forced to spend time attending meetings where everyone will simply be updated what each of us is working on? What if there’s something we disagree on?
“Okayyyy…” I whispered to myself contemplating where I ended up.
Daily 20-30 meetings with teammates, weekly meetings with my manager and monthly 2 hour meetings with the whole office – that’s how my work was scheduled from that point.
If you’re attending meetings all day.. you’re wasting your talent (and solitude might be the answer)
It’s not your fault, though. Teamwork and collaboration are at the core of today’s corporate work style (and that makes sense!). We hold frequent meetings to encourage knowledge sharing, understanding and consensus in the workplace and the our society is characterized by democracy and involvement. In other words, team meetings are compulsory, every attendant is not only encouraged but is rather expected to contribute and every prevailing issue is discussed out loud. Such practice is expected to foster creativity, brainstorming, flexibility and responsiveness as well as the ability to respond to change.
I’ve got to admit that despite my initial ignorance I did find the meetings useful an engaging. And while nothing in business gets accomplished without the assistance of others, very quickly I found myself observing the negative effects that teamwork and frequent meetings bring along such as high interdependence and time wasting, to name a few.
Too much collaboration can be detrimental… you need time for yourself to spend alone.
Back in the 1890s, French researcher Max Ringelmann discovered what others later called the Ringelmann effect: the larger a workgroup, the more likely workers will mingle with each other and will waste time rather than get inspired and get the work done. That means that workmates will rather socialize and will also expect others to pick up the slack. He claimed that the maximum allowed number of people during the meeting is 5. After that, each extra attendee slows the process down and “extends the unproductive time”.
My team meetings would usually feature an exact number of 5 individuals and in most cases even a smaller amount of people. In cases when attendee number would exceed 5 we were warned that we will stick to a certain schedule which would normally feature a strict meeting schedule and attendees would not be allowed to speak longer than 3 minutes at a time. Such meetings would usually allow to both express themselves and give a short feedback. Could that have been the secret of focus?
Go be alone (but not lonely).
Solitude itself is a state of seclusion, i.e. lack of contact with people due to (mainly) purposeful actions – longer-lasting focus, increased creativity and ability to fully relax. However a purposeful long-term solitude, where any human contact is intentionally neglected is thought to bring negative experiences.
While collaboration is key to creativity, exceptional thoughts come nearly always in solitude.
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. And while the brightest minds we’ve ever known would create in peace and solitude they would still seek for companionship for feedback.
The belief that working in teams makes us more creative is so widespread that we’ve stopped listening to our instincts. We’ve stopped trying to understand what we need at that exact moment and we’ve stopped experimenting with ourselves.