I’m sure we’ve all heard the phrase “great minds think alike”. I’ve said this many times before, usually when my friends and I have similar ideas. But recently in class, we’ve had several guest speakers who advocate for the type of thinking that isn’t necessarily conventional. In fact, in our “How to win a Nobel Prize” lecture, we were told that we should be constantly testing and challenging concrete ideas. This got me thinking: does collaboration in the job environment hinder progress?
If one were to look at that question just based off of the last few lectures we had before break, they might think that the answer is obvious. We were shown several cases in which previously concrete ideas that were accepted and followed were suddenly destroyed thanks to new thinking.
In today’s day and age, writes Susan Cain, employees are hired based off of things like people skills, and offices often don’t even have walls. The idea of individuals working on their own in solidarity is dying out. And that might not necessarily be a good thing. For one, collaboration rewards and even demands like-minded thinking. When working in a group, there are several confounding variables to worry about that could potentially hinder progress. For example, a group member may be hesitant to share ideas out of fear of ridicule or embarrassment. Or, one member might rely on another to come up with the ideas or do the work- I know most of us can relate to that one. But on a more advanced level, Susan Cain cites the ideas of Hans Eysenck, emphasizing the fact that group work and collaboration are harmful towards innovation. This is because working with others has potential negative externalities such as wasted energy on social cues that limit and reduce focus. In addition to this, Cain also talks about many major innovative geniuses such as Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs and others, all of whom share introverted tendencies. Vivian Giang of Business Insider writes about multiple ways that collaboration in companies can be unsuccessful. She mentions problems such as group competitiveness, failed recognition of individual achievement, and bias disguised as loyalty to any specific group.
In her article, Susan Cain cites a study called the Coding War Games, in which programmers from ninety-two separate companies were looked at. In the study, it was shown that workers in the same company performed at the same level, but there was a big difference between different companies in terms of production. 62% of the programmers in the top companies reported that their workspace was private for the most part, whereas only 19% of programmers in the worse companies reported the same thing. She continues after reporting this study, saying that brainstorming sessions are for the most part extremely unsuccessful, and that quality of group work decreases as the size of the group increases.
There are no current studies found being done on this topic, and it is unlikely that this topic could suffer from the file drawer problem. Also, sample size does not seem to matter when it comes to this topic, since many studies and anecdotes have been recorded, whether formal or informal.
To conclude, it is reasonable to say that collaboration in the job environment does, in many instances, hinder or slow progress. Different people succeed in different ways, but it can be said that working in self-controlled isolation is the best way for the average worker to develop stronger product and better ideas.