The dark side of teams

Scanning the morning feeds, I ran across a couple of articles that bear on creative judgements and teams. One has to do with the famously closed Apple design process, which its chief designer, Jonathan Ive, says "doesn't do focus groups." Wired expands: "The irony, of course, is that in avoiding focus groups altogether, Apple has managed to make the most commercially successful phones and tablets on the planet."

Also showing up this morning was some business management research from The Wharton School, which suggest that collaborative judgement-making too often rejects outside information. And that leads to diminished performance.

The corporate formula for innovation often focuses on creating a team of experts to cook up the next big thing. Groups of managers -- typically composed of individuals from a variety of fields, including engineering, marketing and operations -- band together to develop new products or services that can create top-line growth. In a recent paper, Wharton management professor Jennifer Mueller and Wharton lecturer Julia Minson looked at the dark side of teamwork -- the tendency of those groups to become insular and less efficient as they grow in complexity.

In "The Cost of Collaboration: Why Joint Decision-making Exacerbates Rejection of Outside Information," Minson and Mueller found that people working in pairs were more likely to dismiss outside input than individuals working alone.

Innovation-by-committee isn't an optimum strategy. That finding won't surprise anybody. I just found it interesting that the variable in both cases here is a willingness to consider outside information. The solo creative, or at least one who can see to it that her vision prevails in a corporate setting, is demonstrably more open to experience, which will include alternate takes on the problem at hand. The result may be spectacularly bad, or in the case of Jonathan Ive, just spectacular.