Summary: Creative Conspiracy By Leigh Thompson
Summary: Creative Conspiracy By Leigh Thompson

Summary: Creative Conspiracy By Leigh Thompson

Breaking Down the Barriers to Creative Collaboration

Going with the crowd: The largely unconscious tendency of people to change their behavior so as to win acceptance from others—in other words, conformity.

Riding the bus without paying the fare: The tendency for people to not work as hard when they are in a group as they do when individually accountable for a project, also known as free riding.

Team superiority complex: The tendency to think 95 percent of us are in the top quartile—in other words, that one’s own group has been more productive in a meeting than is actually warranted.

The tyranny of the average: The tendency of groups to regress toward an average, whether that be an opinion, design, or even a group performance effort.

Cognitus interruptus: The tendency to multitask in groups, even though no one is good at it and the group ends up neither listening nor performing very well.

Dumbing down: The fact that people are obsessively concerned with what others think of them and thus play it safe by being passive and often not doing anything extraordinary so they won’t attract attention.


Picking the Right People for the Creative Team

#1 Don’t Create a Team for the Sake of Teamwork

Not every project requires collaboration. Teams should be created only when there is insufficient talent on the part of any one person to achieve a clear and important goal. If one person can accomplish a task individually, then by all means, let him! Bottom line: don’t force teamwork. It sours people and gives teamwork a bad name. Working together for the sake of working together does not make sense.

#2 Keep the Team Small

Any time that a team goes into double-digit numbers, it is in trouble. Leading High Impact Teams survey of more than one thousand team leaders indicates there is cause for alarm: the average number of people on a team is about thirteen people.

The most successful teams are lean in number and high in diversity—low mean and high variance. Of course, this setup comes at a cost: heterogeneity among people is a breeding ground for conflict. However, healthy debate and conflict are a good thing for teams, so handled right, this consequence actually boosts a team’s creativity.

#3 Pick Smart People

This is certainly not a politically correct piece of advice. However, the data are virtually indisputable: smart people are more creative. General cognitive ability—your IQ—predicts performance in both educational and vocational settings. Perhaps even more depressing (and even less politically correct) is the fact that it is not easy (perhaps impossible) to stimulate low-cognitive-ability people to greater creativity.


Leading the Creative Team

#1 Pseudo Goals and Authentic Goals

Goals are the defining characteristics of teams. A group is a collection of people; a team is a group of people with a shared objective. A creative team works with the conviction that collectively they can achieve more than they could working independently—that is, they deeply believe the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

#2 Excavating Expectations

Once the team has a clear goal, it is imperative to lay out the day-to-day working expectations. Some groups set lofty and compelling goals, only to disappoint one another because they failed to understand their working expectations. This is because our expectations are often unspoken. They remain below the surface of a group’s conscious awareness and are usually not part of the team conversation. The key is to surface expectations early on so the group has an idea of what is expected of them. This is the process of excavating expectations.

#3 Get on the Tightrope

Once a goal is clarified and expectations are outlined, the team needs to get on with the work at hand. Unfortunately, leaders often fail to get out of the way of their team. I call this being on the tightrope because it is a balancing act: The key is not to disappear, but also not to intrude.


Motivating the Creative Team

#1 Working for the Money or Working for the Meaning?

Intrinsic motivation comes from within, such as when we engage in an activity or hobby for the pure satisfaction of doing it. That is the motivation that my less-than-perfect-test-scores student had. Extrinsic motivation comes from external goals (such as when we do a job to get paid). Some people might say they work because they want to make a difference and because their work means something; this is intrinsic motivation. Other people might say they work because they need the money; this would be extrinsic motivation. Most people work in organizations for both reasons: they like what they do, but they also want to get paid.

over time, extrinsic motivation, in the absence of intrinsic affirmation, may very well undermine the employees’ own interest in their job. This is because they may come to believe that they only work for the money or extrinsic reward. Finally, offering only extrinsic rewards results in less persistent and more superficial processing of information.

#2 It’s Nurture, Not Nature

Claudia Mueller and Carol Dweck reasoned that even praise could backfire under the wrong conditions. Mueller and Dweck noted that there are at least two ways we can praise others—we can praise their innate, raw talent or we can praise their effort and resolve. For example, suppose that a manager makes a successful presentation for a client. We could either praise that manager’s intelligence or we could highlight her exceptional motivation and effort. Intelligence and talent are largely immutable factors—not easy to take away, but also not easy to improve. They are fixed traits, so praise will not likely affect them. However, motivation and effort can be changed and improved.

#3 Psychological Flow

When was the last time you were so completely immersed in doing something that you lost track of time and found yourself engaged, interested, and even joyful? Psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi refers to this state as psychological flow. Flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task. When people experience psychological flow, they are thoroughly immersed in what they are doing and focused on the present (as opposed to the past or future). Most important, they have struck a balance between boredom and stress, such that they are completely engaged and challenged but not overcome with anxiety and fear.

What are the conditions of psychological flow? The good news is that you don’t need to be a theoretical physicist or ultra-distance runner to experience flow. Normal people can also experience flow if they:

  • Have clear goals
  • Get immediate feedback
  • Experience deep concentration
  • Focus on the present
  • Take control
  • Lose their ego

The critical thing is to balance the challenge that faces you with your skill level. If your level of skill is high and the challenge is also high, the conditions are right for flow. If the challenge exceeds your skill level, you will most likely feel anxiety. If you are highly skilled but not challenged, you will feel apathy and even boredom.