I came across a very thought-provoking book over the weekend about the power of creative collaboration — or “group genius.” The author is a professor at Washington University in St. Louis (the same school currently attended by one of my handsome and talented nephews!) and how today’s most successful companies have harnessed the unique power of collaboration to generate innovation.
The author started exploring the topic by studying jazz improvisation, himself a band geek. Yes there are rules, roles and there is a conscious, underlying structure to improv. But in the end it appears effortless, fluid and, well, genius. When it all comes together magic can happen. This made me think about my own years as a band geek –in high school and even a year at Butler University as a “Marching Bulldog.”
At the time, I didn’t appreciate the sheer genius of what was happening in symphonic or jazz band. Or even marching band — a couple hundred kids moving about a football field in uncomfortable polyester uniforms creating the most memorable, amazing and in-your-face auditory and visual experiences. A good friend from high school has been posting some of the best performances on Facebook and that has brought it all to light for me. Many of my foundational lessons on the value of creative collaboration came from band.
The bottom line is no one of us is as creative, smart or successful without the input and impact of many. And frankly we’re foolish to think we can do “it” alone. Even those insights that emerge when you’re completely alone, the author states, can be traced back to previous collaborations, interactions and influences. In his book, he explores some of today’s most innovative companies and shows that they succeed by designing their organizations to maximize group genius. And we’re not talking brainstorming. I’ve rarely been part of a brainstorming session where someone hasn’t squashed the spirit of creativity. Have you?
I guess I needed an academic researcher to point it out to me. Moments of insight (as Oprah calls them, a-Ha moments) can be traced back to previous dedication, hard work and collaboration. Where I am today, gainfully and happily self-employed, certainly has been impacted by years of creative expression and collaboration through music (even marching band). And where I go will continue to be impacted by the smart, generous and creative people with whom I partner, discuss ideas and collaborate today.
Here’s to the power of collaboration and continued success through group genius.