Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

Social sensitivity beats IQ for groups

February 2, 2012

I’ve just come across some research by MIT (via Johnnie Moore – a great facilitator whose facilitation training I attended a while ago) showing that a group’s performance at a variety of tasks is much more strongly correlated to its social sensitivity (the extent to which members are able to perceive accurately each other’s emotions) than to the collective IQ of its members.

A group with total higher IQ might be better at one or two tasks but the groups which were very good at a wide range of tasks were characterised by three factors:

High average social sensitivity
A high rate of sharing who gets to communicate
The presence of women

Predictably this has been reported as ‘women make groups better’. Which is true up to a point but actually when the researchers controlled for the presence of women in groups the social sensitivity factor won out.

This absolutely chimes with what I observe in workshops: you might think that a group containing a particularly smart person will excel but if that person doesn’t allow their group to contribute fully the team doesn’t benefit from the collective expertise and probably won’t progress as far as one that is supportive and encourages everyone to take turns applying their insight to the problem. Interestingly the research says that factors like group cohesion don’t matter much, so it’s not necessarily about putting together people who can get on well, but rather people who will be sensitive to each other and ‘play well’ together. And yes in my experience women generally do that more easily than men.

But I’m left thinking ‘what about Steve Jobs?’. I haven’t read the autobiography yet but from what I gather he was the antithesis of socially sensitive. Do some tasks (e.g. doing something transformational and never-done-before and/or managing huge collaborations) fall outside of these principles? What role does leadership play in all this?

And it’s made me pull out a book that’s now 15 years old but looking at it now I’m remind of how brilliant it is: ‘Organizing Genius’ by Warren Bennis.

He tells great stories about some historical great groups (e.g. the Manhattan Project, the turnaround of Disney, the development of the first PC) and draws some general conclusions about Great Groups which are still very relevant today I think. Every time I use them with clients they ask for a copy so here they are in full:

1. Greatness starts with superb people
2. Great Groups and great leaders create each other
3. Every Great Group has a strong leader
4. The leaders of Great Groups love talent and know where to find it
5. Great Groups are full of talented people who can work together
6. Great Groups think they on a mission from God
7. Every Great Group is an island – but an island with a bridge to the mainland
8. Great Groups see themselves as winning underdogs
9. Great Groups always have an enemy
10. People in Great Groups have blinders [blinkers] on
11. Great Groups are optimistic, not realistic
12. In Great Groups the right person has the right job
13. The leaders of Great Groups give them what they need and free them from the rest
14. Great Groups ship
15. Great work is its own reward

The whole book is worth a read but most pertinent to this discussion:

5. Great Groups are full of talented people who can work together: Bennis says yes of course you need amazing talent but there’s no point recruiting geniuses who cannot collaborate well. But this doesn’t mean you have to have amiable nice people – indeed Great Groups are more tolerant than ordinary ones of personal idiosyncrasies, because they are so focused on their goal.

3. Every Great Group has a strong leader: It’s interesting to read how Bennis defines great leaders for this kind of high-performing groups – not as a typical ‘boss’ who directs in a ‘parent-child’ way but rather someone who considers it their mission to enable the others to do their great work. This kind of leader persuades the right people to come on board and then creates the right conditions for them: protecting them form above, giving them enough autonomy, managing their stress and freeing them of anything that gets in the way.

Which in turn reminds me of Adam Morgan’s concept of the Smokejumper in ‘The Pirate Inside’, his book about how to create challenger brand cultures. The term comes from firefighting in forests in North America where the smokejumpers are the people who fly low and spot small fires and parachute in to cut a firebreak and stop things getting out of control.

Adam says challenger brand teams (especially those within big organisations) need a Smokejumper  as a kind of sponsor who protects them from high up, is actively watching to see if problems emerge and takes preventative action – but then gets the hell out and lets the people on the ground get on with it. So it’s not about the more passive kind of sponsor but someone who’s actually prepared to DO stuff. There are some good examples in the book.






The link between maths and creativity

October 19, 2011

This was the subject of a cool talk by Jon Leach for the Account Planning Group last night. Jon is a planning guru and maths geek yet also entertaining. Spooky I know.

The bit I remembered most this morning was the formula he shared regarding creativity (he said it came from Doug Hall, the American marketing/innovation guy):

C = D x S / F

The Creativity in the room equals the Diversity of the people multiplied by the amount of Stimulation, divided by the level of Fear. Makes intuitive sense, doesn’t it? And I think it gets more powerful when you try out some numbers, as Jon did.

Assume D, S and F operate on a simple three point scale – i.e. if Diversity is low we give it a 1, if it’s high we give it a 3 and so on. You will no doubt quickly appreciate that on this scale the maximum Creativity is 9: Diversity 3 x Stimulation 3, divided by Fear 1.

And the minimum Creativity is Diversity 1 x Stimulation 1, divided by Fear 3 = 1/3. So a difference of 27 times between the most and least creative situation you can set up. Which is a lot.

Imagine the typical workshop where you’ve made a bit of an effort with Diversity (e.g. you’ve got someone from R&D, maybe an ‘outside expert’) and brought together some half-decent Stimulus so you allocate both of those a score of 2 and get 4.

But if the Fear in the room is reasonably high and also 2  (the client-agency relationship is at a low point, the big boss needs an answer by the end of the week, …) your Creativity ends up being only 2, so quite rubbish. The Fear is a real killer, no matter how good your planning.

Another interesting bit was about the creativity of groups. Working with others increases creativity because each person brings their own ideas and presumably they are multiplicative rather than additive since the ideas can be combined in different ways. But the trouble is that the more people in the group the higher the Social Cost: the challenges of getting along with each other, doing the difficult and emotionally vulnerable work of creativity together.

With three people there are three Social Units: the dynamics between each pair of people and between the threesome. With four people there are 11 Social Units (I think) because there are six possible pairs, three possible threesomes and one foursome. So the Social Cost will go up rapidly and counteract the additional Creativity.

Jon Leach reckons that creative output is optimized at about 4 people, or 5 if they know each other really well – i.e. the number of people you can into a taxi. So for meetings where we are doing (or presumably reviewing) creative work we shouldn’t have loads of people present. Maybe we should have the meetings in taxis to enforce the discipline.

And it explains why in workshops we tend to break people into groups of about 4 for doing teamwork. I’ve realised for a while that any bigger than that and the teams don’t cohere and work together well (you get factions, or a non-contributor or two) but this explains it mathematically. How very pleasing.



Where good ideas come from

September 28, 2010

This video plugging Steven Johnson’s new book ‘Where good ideas come from’ is worth a watch, partly for the content and partly for the graphic illustration style which really keeps your attention. 

I really enjoyed Steven Johnson’s last book ‘Everything bad is good for you’, which made a very lucid and entertaining case that popular culture (TV programmes, films, games) has become increasingly complex and helps to foster all kinds of thinking, motor and social skills, as opposed to the Daily Mail view that it’s driving ‘dumbing down’ and increasing isolation.

Now he’s written a book about the impact of environment on creativity. I haven’t read the book (it’s not published yet in the UK) but he appears to conclude that ideas can take years and collision with other ideas to come to full fruition, so we should create environments that facilitate those collisions and collaborations.  His view seems to be that all the online connectivity that we hear may threaten our creativity by eternally distracting us is actually pretty good because it massively enhances and accelerates our ability to collide with interesting thoughts and people.  My instinct is that the truth lies somewhere in between.

Execution is everything

May 9, 2010

Two little examples of comms that I saw this week …

1. Burger King ‘disloyalty card’, where if you ‘cheat on beef’ with their premium chicken burger 5 times you get the 6th one free. Quite a few brands are getting into loyalty cards at the moment (e.g. the coffee shops) but people find them quite annoying because they lose them, forget to get them stamped and they clog up your wallet or purse.  But here they’ve executed the thing with a proper funny idea, which makes it a lot more likely this will be successful.

2. An ad for a Toshiba promotion where if you buy a Toshiba TV before the World Cup you get your money refunded if England wins. Which is quite a big exciting idea but is executed in a really boring way.  Looks like the client has done it themselves.  (Media placement on a train doesn’t help either.)

So great execution is vital – what good agencies add really is worth paying for.

The outsider’s perspective

February 19, 2010

I was reading an article in Wired last night which struck a chord. It’s partly about a researcher who has studied how scientists work and in particular how they react to the “dirty secret of science”: that all the time experiments come up with inexplicable disappointing results, even when conducted by really experienced people in some of the finest labs in the world. As part of my biochemistry degree I spent 6 months in a lab doing research and it’s certainly true. And really frustrating.

The researcher studied how different groups of scientists reacted to these unexpected findings, and discovered that those with more varied personnel from different disciplines/nationalities etc. were more able to engage in productive debate and come up with solutions, or spot that the result could be the answer to a totally different question. Whereas in labs with a less collaborative culture or a more homogenous team were less likely to make breakthroughs.

All of which makes perfect sense given all the research that I’ve seen on creativity: that often bringing in outsiders and facilitating the collision of previously unconnected ideas is hugely effective.

And it chimes with what I experience all the time as a consultant: that coming in as an outsider you are far more likely to spot things that need to be questioned and have new ideas than the people within the organisation who have become institutionalised and have the same points of view.  It’s also why the pitching process for new business can be (at its best) really inspiring and can even result in the incumbent agency retaining the account – because having the perspective and attitude of the outsider facilitates the creation of great work.

It’s why there are those books about ‘Your first 100 days as CEO’: because it’s when you still have the perspective of an outsider that you are likely to have your best ideas and make the biggest impact.  One of my current clients is going through a sudden major change in management, which means that all previous assumptions are being questioned. Whilst that is painful I think a lot of good will come from it.

Everyone’s going to the pictures

January 25, 2010

A predictable plot, a dodgy script, simplistic characterization, half an hour too long … but boy is Avatar worth seeing, in my humble view. Not especially for the 3D but for the amazing technical accomplishment of creating a really rich, absorbing, convincing, artificial world. It just blows you away. And I am not a sci fi/action movie kind of gal. As my friend James commented, wouldn’t it be amazing if these techniques were used to create experiences you could actually spend time in. The new Disneyland, perhaps?

On the subject of films, I read a piece about Tesco going into film production, and being Tesco it looks well thought-through. They’ve done a deal with a production company who will work closely with high profile authors to turn their books into films – authors such as Jackie Collins, Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson, Dick Francis who are bang on for the Tesco audience. The films will have a few cinema showings (doubtless for Tesco customers and staff only) and then go straight to DVD, sold exclusively through Tesco stores. Tesco get a great footfall driver, the opportunity to sell more of the associated books as well as the DVDs, the ability to get unique behind-the-scenes content and of course further expansion of their brand’s scope, now into the more glamorous worlds of entertainment provision and content creation. Nice.