Is Mindless Team Orientation Hurting Creative Firms?

by Bruce Tait

This week I’m writing about a terrific article in the New York Times by Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

The article struck home for us because we try to cultivate a culture of creativity with our strategists at Tait Subler. Her proposition is that the current trend toward group-think (team-orientation) is actually less productive when seeking creative solutions that are effective. She cites study after study that show how individuals who are given undisturbed quiet time to focus are more likely to come up with a big idea than a committee, brainstorm or general group-ish work style. Individuals can benefit from discussions and bouncing ideas off of each other — but the most productive creative thinking occurs alone.

Maybe Howard Roark had it right

Contrast her seemingly irrefutable science with the typical “creative firm” these days.  The workspace is usually communal. Many firms have long benches or desks facing one another with very little private space at all. According to Ms. Cain, the average “office” space has shrunk by more than half since the 1970s, across all kinds of organizations. And creative companies seem to push this even further.

The bigger learning point here is that introverts are often the most creative people and too few ad agencies seem to leave room for that type. When I was working at a top creative ad agency back in the 90s we had a training session meant to tell us what personality type we were. The point of the session was supposed to be that all types were necessary to have high-performance teams. But the company culture and the way the session was run led to a conclusion that only the amiable and expressive types were really valued. One talented account planner I managed broke down in tears upon hearing she was the “wrong” type. She was an introvert. But also not a “team player” in the eyes of that culture and she left the agency not long thereafter.

Finding room for introverts is key to a creative enterprise, both physically and culturally. We believe in this approach whole heartedly and have adapted our space and hiring over the last 12 years to accommodate these people but Ms. Cain’s article and forthcoming book should inspire all of us to think of ways to evolve our process to better accommodate these fonts of creativity.


Posted in Brand Strategy, Forward Thinking.