“Does anyone know the game ‘Food Fight’?” Prof. Keith Sawyer asks us while showing a cute Atari game from the early ‘80s. Only 2 out of the 2.200 attendants in the room raise their hand.
Sawyer laughs, and tells us he is the creator of the game. In his time as a game developer, about 30 years ago, it was perfectly normal that someone like him worked for ten months on a game – all by himself. When he checked the credits of the 2002 game Kingdom Hearts, he was stumped. More than 50 people were noted as collaborators – and these were mostly even only the managers of departments.
Of course we can state that the complexity of todays games demand excessive amounts of man hours, but it’s not only in dividing the workload over a bigger group of people is better. A group of people have the opportunity to combine their intelligence and creativity. It’s what he calls the Group Genius. In a lot of situations the outcome will be even bigger than the sum of all parts. Take for instance a jazz ensemble, or an improv theater group: the artists work together, stimulate and inspire each other to do great things.
The myth of the lone genius
Contrary to popular belief, the best ideas are not born as incidental flashes of insight in one lone genius’ head. Ideas emerge and grow over time, and mostly in more than one brain. Even writers like Tolkien were part of writers groups who exchanged ideas. The Wright brothers, often credited for their innovations in aviation, spent the last part of their lives in court, while fighting lawsuits against every aircraft builder who became successful. A bitter way to end, knowing that their proceeders, such as Octave Chanute and Santos Dumont were working more collaboratively and actually made aircrafts that were way better and more influential on aviation than the ones the Wright brothers made.
Today the web 2.0 is a beautiful example of collaboration: it’s all about collective or group genius. This, together with a clapping exercise in which we’d organically moved a chaotic applause by 2.200 people into a clapping more or less in sync, is a great example of how we are all capable, built even, for collaboration. In another example he tells us the story of the company that let’s their employees spent 10% of their time on their own creative projects. Unmanaged, no reporting. The result: more creativity flowing through the veins of the people working there, which of course also reflects in their creativity used for the brand.
And herein lies the message for managers: you can’t make creativity happen if you don’t allow it to grow bottom up. Trust the group genius and great things might happen.