Monday, February 27, 2012

Introverts and Creativity: A Critique of Susan Cain's Argument

I've begun reading Susan Cain's best-selling book, Quiet, about introverts and creativity.   I also read her thought-provoking article in the New York Times several weeks ago.   Cain argues that introverts are exceptionally creative, and yet the world has become so "noisy" and "collaborative" that we might inhibiting these folks' creativity.   This weekend, I read an interesting, must-read rebuttal from Keith Sawyer, the outstanding creativity scholar who wrote a book titled Group Genius.  Sawyer argues,

"Psychologists who study creativity know that it requires both solitude and collaboration. Exceptional creativity involves a lot of hard work, and that often happens in solitude. But Cain misses the big picture: Researchers have found that breakthrough ideas are largely due to exchange and interaction, and that’s because breakthrough ideas always involve combinations of very different ideas." 

Sawyer also points out that most studies do not show a relationship between introversion and creativity.  I find Sawyer's argument about exchange and interaction very compelling.  It fits nicely with the argument put forth by Steven Johnson in his terrific book, Where Good Ideas Come From.  Johnson argues that good ideas emerge from "fertile environments" that enable "adjacent" ideas to "connect, fuse, recombine."  He argues  that collaboration and communication are essential elements to breakthrough innovation.  Innovators often take ideas from multiple disciplines and fields and recombine them in ways that lead to new insights and breakthroughs.  They have to immerse themselves in a domain and connect with others to achieve that synthesis and integration.


Brennagee said...
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Brennagee said...

I agree it takes solitary immersion in a subject as well as interaction to bring an idea to the surface. Could it be that introverts do both? Collaborating in small groups or via the internet. Cain should acknowledge that collaboration is not strictly extroverted behavior but I do see where group brainstorming could be prohibitive to introverts.

I appreciate the rebuttal to Susan Cain. i admire her work but it's good to see contrasting viewpoints.