Group Think and the Creative Leap

I don’t read the newspaper all that much and when I do, it’s usually when I’m traveling since I find it as a nice way to clear my head, pass the time and catch up on a few nuggets of interesting news.  My favorite newspaper is definitely The Wall Street Journal, hands down.  I’m not a finance nerd, but I just find the other reporting across the paper to be truly excellent.

During my travel back from Florida to Connecticut, I bought the Saturday/weekend edition of the Journal on my Kindle and there was a very cool piece entitled “Humans: Why They Triumphed“.  The intro of the essay starts off as follows:

Human evolution presents a puzzle. Nothing seems to explain the sudden takeoff of the last 45,000 years—the conversion of just another rare predatory ape into a planet dominator with rapidly progressing technologies. Once “progress” started to produce new tools, different ways of life and burgeoning populations, it accelerated all over the world, culminating in agriculture, cities, literacy and all the rest. Yet all the ingredients of human success—tool making, big brains, culture, fire, even language—seem to have been in place half a million years before and nothing happened. Tools were made to the same monotonous design for hundreds of thousands of years and the ecological impact of people was minimal. Then suddenly—bang!—culture exploded, starting in Africa. Why then, why there?

The reason was the notion of the “collective brain” through the exchange of culture, ideas, trade, etc. In places where there were increased amount of human interaction (especially across a wider cross-section of people), there was the chance for a greater or even a sudden leap forward for humanity, even after millions of years of little or no progress.

I think this has a very telling from the standpoint of our own personal creativity and how it can flow in our own lives – the exposure to different people, thoughts, ideas and creations. Each of these things can serve as a catalyst to new thoughts for each of us.


What I find most interesting is how this can relates to the overall idea of diversity.  Often the discussion of diversity in our modern life talks only in terms of how we need to be exposed to people of varying races, creeds, socio-economic status, religions, etc. but never gets to the true WHY we should do all of that.. Without the why, the effort becomes di

minished because it takes on a presctive air of holier-than-thou guilting into doing what is right… and doing so without questioning. That gets us nowhere and makes us intellectually poorer to boot.

For me, the why comes from creating a fertile ground from which new, electric and creative ideas can sprout. Are all ideas and thoughts equal? Oh, hell no – but they should all have the chance to be vetted. They never have been and never will be, but without the chance for cross-pollination and open discussion in the marketplace of thought, we could very well miss out on some of the best ideas. I don’t know about you, but I’m not comfortable with the notion of missing out on those potential diamonds of change and intellectual curiosity.

And think about any time you were engaged in a judgment free exchange of ideas. You can practically feel a crackle in the air. It’s intoxicating… but far too rare.

Which is why we need to encourage these moments to happen and cherish them when they do... you know, just like our ancestors 45,000 years ago.  Obviously.

6 Replies to “Group Think and the Creative Leap”

  1. “a judgement free exchange of ideas”… a wonderful thought, but rare is an understatement. i think as we get older, it almost becomes impossible to hear people out (with opposing ideas), without forming judgements, even if silently, in our heads.

    maybe in the worlds of math and science it happens more often, since we’re dealing in facts, not opinions. i’ve worked in broadcast news for 10 years – journalism! where reporting is based on unbiased fact! we learned so in american history, right? {{sigh}}..

    the last time i had one of these judgement-free exchanges with more than one person was probably in college, where an open mind is a badge of honor..
    that badge, of course, promptly ripped from your sleeve and tossed out in the real world.

    cynical? yes. true? i think so.

  2. I do think it becomes more challenging as we get older – we tend to set into our own ways a little bit more. I’ve actually blogged on that before in that I think it’s not always bad – sometimes it’s really a matter of our finding the spots where we feel true to ourselves and we become less willing to bend on things we hold so true to our hearts.

    However, I do think that these conversations are totally possible, but it can depend on topic. If you want to talk politics or religion, sure… it’s gonna turn ugly. But in a lot of other areas, I find myself continually fascinated by some of the ideas people come up with and I feel richer for having heard them out.

  3. yes, i’ve read your post(s) about becoming more stubborn in your own ideas as you get older (and especially when you become a parent, i assure you), and i agree. it’s not always a bad thing to know where you stand on certain issues.

    i actually consider myself to be one of the most open-minded people i know (no, i’m serious! lol).. and because of that, (and also like you, as you’ve posted), you will just about NEVER hear me debate politics or any hot-button issues – for the very reasons you (and now, i), have discussed.

    it is entirely possible to have open conversations, but it has to involve people TRULY interested in opening their minds to other ideas. i love hearing others’ ideas, experiences, and notions. i love that i’ve lived in several different regions in this country (nyc, upstate ny, rural, southeast georgia, indialantic, fl – a surfing mecca, back to nyc, and now in south jersey). it’s given me a real taste — and appreciation — for how different folks are, and i’ve found my niche and things i love (and don’t love) about all of these locales.
    **i also may have contributed to evolution by bringing my love of grits from georgia back with me up here you’rrrre welcome. 😉

  4. I have a Facebook friend who has a diverse group of friends (mainly from a political/religious standpoint). He sparks discussions that are fascinating because he asks a good question and then his friends have at it. I learn so much (and often spend way too much time reading/participating). I wouldn’t say the discussions are always judgment free but he tries to make sure we’re all playing nice.

    We tend to surround ourselves with people who agree with us so we don’t often hear opposing viewpoints. And it’s sometimes uncomfortable to participate in conversations where someone is challenging our views so we might avoid them. But as you point out, it’s enriching to get exposure to new ideas.

    This also goes to what you said in your post about vacations. If we go new places and see new things, we expand our experiences and our minds. (Which means cool vacations are essential to our development as a species! How awesome is that?)

  5. Cool vacations as a necessary ingredient for development as a species? Damn, Jess… you better patent that or write a book on it. Love it!

  6. Oooh – a book idea that might involve taking vacations . . . I think I can get behind that. I might need a co-author though!

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