Collaborative Genious-ity

Group of colored raised hands

Group of colored raised hands

The beauty of a thing that sprouts out of a group of people working collaboratively. I love it. We get it wrong when we  mess up when we assume the greatness comes from ‘the lone genius’, as Joshua Wolf Shenk describes it in his Sunday Review article, The End of ‘Genius’ in last July’s New York Times.

A friend sent me a link to this last month, I’m so glad to have a second chance at it. I’ve just got to talk about this.

Collaboration. Compassion. Being open and mindful of those that surround you. I’ve got that song the Youngbloods sang in the late 60’s in my head: Come on people now, smile on your brother everybody get together..

Yeah, yeah, Kum-Ba-Ya.. make fun of it. Whatever. If that is your response, it’s your loss. There is a higher self we are talking about here. Really great things happen

Shenk writes: Historically speaking, locating genius within individuals is a recent enterprise. Before the 16th century, one did not speak of people being geniuses but having geniuses. “Genius,” explains the Harvard scholar Marjorie Garber, meant “a tutelary god or spirit given to every person at birth.” Any value that emerged from within a person depended on a potent, unseen force coming from beyond that person.


The pair is the primary creative unit — not just because pairs produce such a staggering amount of work but also because they help us to grasp the concept of dialectical exchange. At its heart, the creative process itself is about a push and pull between two entities, two cultures or traditions, or two people, or even a single person and the voice inside her head. Indeed, thinking itself is a kind of download of dialogue between ourselves and others. And when we listen to creative people describe breakthrough moments that occur when they are alone, they often mention the sensation of having a conversation in their own minds.

This phenomenon is so uncanny that the writer Elizabeth Gilbert has proposed that we return to the myth of the muses to help characterize it. That doesn’t mean there literally are “fairies who follow people around rubbing fairy juice on their projects and stuff,” Ms. Gilbert has said. But the core experience described by the muse-creator interaction — that of one entity helping to inspire another — is almost always true.

This raises vital questions. What is the optimal balance between social immersion and creative solitude? Why does interpersonal conflict so often coincide with innovation? Looking at pairs allows us to grapple with these questions, which are as basic to the human experience as the push and pull of love itself. As a culture, we’ve long been preoccupied with romance. But we should also take seriously something just as important, but long overlooked — creative intimacy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s