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Friday, July 13, 2012

Closed Circles

At Mullings, Rich Galen has some wise observations about closed circles:
  • Closed circles are like black holes in physics: An actual, physical force. The gravity they generate is so great, not even light can escape; and anything that ventures near the event horizon will be sucked in and will (essentially) disappear.
  • We see these closed circles all the time in business and politics. 
  • In the midst of the shut down fight with President Bill Clinton, I was called back to Washington to join the political staff of Speaker Newt Gingrich.
  • I had worked around, for, and with all of the players in Newt world, so I was not an outsider being brought in; I was a family member returning.
  • We talked about the dangers of becoming a Closed Circle, but in the intense pressures of dealing with the Clinton White House, (not to mention the other 434 Members of the U.S. House) the circle inexorably tightened until, like all Closed Circles, we shut everyone else out.
  • We even developed a syllogism with which we teased ourselves. If someone came to us with an idea or suggestion we would say:
  • "We're very smart, very creative guys. We've been doing this for a long time. If that were a good idea we would have already thought of it. Ergo, it's not a good idea."
  • Sounds silly, but that's the mindset you get into even when you are actively trying to prevent it.
  • Every White House suffers from the Closed Circle syndrome. This one does. Every previous one did.
At The New York Times, Susan Cain writes of an organizational fad that she calls the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from collabortion.
But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.
[D]ecades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and group performance gets worse as group size increases. The “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” wrote the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.” 
The reasons brainstorming fails are instructive for other forms of group work, too. People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure. The Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that when we take a stance different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection. Professor Berns calls this “the pain of independence.”