I was reading an article by Lisa Baird, a former principal designer at IDEO, talking about the existence of Unicorn employees, “the type of person whose professional expertise is both deep and wide in multiple subject areas.” That subject was in itself interesting, but in her conversation she mentioned that a current line of thought in the creative world is that to be more creative and less productive you need to be less collaborative.
Against Current Thought
Baird said in her article that for the last decade collaboration has been the watchword for American corporations. My thought about this subject is that collaboration is one of the major things Millennial employees seek in the workplace. They are supposed to want more collaboration than is currently occurring in business today.
Baird said that “A growing body of academic research and the popular press have begun to point toward collaboration’s costs and limits.” Additionally, she said “…collaboration doesn’t seem to have solved our intractable productivity needs, risks of burnout, and communication breakdowns. Even the technologies designed to make collaborating easier and more seamless are coming under fire by some users who claim they do nothing but add to the noise.” Software programs like Slack, a favorite at my wife’s company have been criticized as being distractive as much as it is helpful.
Baird reports MIT research that says:
“…a collaborative design process—where a bunch of specialists put their heads together to try to come up with innovation solutions—generally ‘reduced creativity due to the tendency to incrementally modify known successful designs rather than explore radically different and potentially superior ones.’” So if we are bringing Millennials in to a collaborative work environment are we dooming them to being less creative?
Baird said that “comprehensivists” may be a reaction to the explosion of collaboration in the work place. As it turns out we may need collaborators and the comprehensive unicorns of knowledge. Companies cannot just operate with one group or the other. The “comprehensivists” may be your most creative employees but you need the collaborators to work on the ideas and develop the projects.
Baird said that collaboration, even with its restriction on creativity, is not going away. Rather the trend is toward everyone becoming a hybrid of collaborator and creator and perhaps that is what will keep the Millennials currently at work and those coming into the workplace happy in their positions.