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Why We Need Solitude to Induce Creativity

It has been said that creativity and solitude go hand in hand

Daniel St. Joseph
Jul 29, 2020 · 7 min read

Solitude has become outdated. Most schools, companies, and cultures are embracing the cooperative mindset with the notion that achievements and creativity only come from teamwork.

Most of us, hence, are working as groups in open offices with little or no privacy. Lonely genius has no status, fading gradually. Collaboration is now the top priority.

This concept has led to a contradiction. Research showed that humans only develop their creative ability as being alone because they can enjoy their privacy and free from distraction. The majority of highly creative, in many professions, are introvert- according to a study of two psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist.

They are extrovert enough to share and propose their ideas but they always perceive themselves as independent individuals. They don’t like catching up with the trends.

Introverts feel more pleasurable when they work alone and solitude is the main catalyst for creativity.

The famous psychologist Hans Eysenck observed that introverts nurture creativity by “ focusing on the current tasks to prevent unrelated issues such as politics, gender, society”

For a long time, solitude has had a strong connection with creativity and superiority.

We are often dazzled by the amazing presentation and persuasion but ignore the hidden figures behind the scenes.

Take Apple as an example, after Steve Jobs passed away, people heard lots of stories about his contribution to Apple. Most people look up to Steve Jobs’s charisma and great presentation skills that they forget a very important figure who plays a key role in the foundation of Apple — Steve Wozniak.

Wozniak is considered the wizard of tech who is introverted and socially-awkward. He worked in silence on the invention that we are using every day- the personal computers.

In March 1975, Wozniak believed that the world would be better off if everybody owned a friendly-user computer. It was like a distant dream since most of the computers at that time had the size of a minivan and were too expensive for general purchase.

After a meeting with the Homebrew Computer Club, Wozniak was inspired to work on his marvelous computer. Three months later, he revealed his invention to Steve Jobs. Wozniak decided to announce his invention to the public but Jobs persuaded him to found Apple.

The foundation of Apple taught us the power of partnership, at the same time, it also emphasized the independence spirit of Wozniak.

If you dig up the story, you would find that Wozniak created the computer from scratch by himself. He pulled many all-nighters to finish his ideal invention in solitude before introducing it to Steve.

In his diary, Wozniak left a message for the future inventors:

“Most inventors and engineers I met had one common trait…They lived in their own world. They were like indie artists. In fact, the most prominent in one of them were artists, and artists need their own space to create their masterpieces. I would give you advice that you may find weird: Work on your own, not with a team.”

In reality, the teamwork mindset has dominated in all organizations.

People are often annoyed by the telephone ring, observation from managers, and coworkers. The problem is most employees today spend too much time working in groups, with 70% of people are working in open offices- where the privacy isn’t considered. Micromanagement is a pain in the ass currently.

In recent decades, the average space per head plummeted to 182 square feet (2017) compared to 197.3 square feet ( 2010).

At schools, the teamwork style has spread through all classrooms. Students are organized into different groups to stimulate discussion. Even math and literature are also taught in group projects. In class, students sometimes aren’t allowed to ask a specific question if all members in the group don’t have that question.

At times, teamwork can bring more benefits, it helps every member exchange ideas, manage information, and build trust in a team.

However, teamwork only benefits if each member is responsible for their tasks. Working in a group is a nightmare if people involve too many meetings and conferences.

Recent research showed that open offices have made employees feel unfriendly, insecure, and unfocused. They often suffered from stress, high blood pressure, and exhaustion. Those who were interrupted while working result in lower performance by 50% and spend a double amount of time to finish their jobs.

Many introverts know this twinge and resist involving in teamwork. Backbone Entertainment- a video game company began using open offices and later realized that most of the game developers were introvert.

“It’s used to be a big working open space without any stall and everybody can see each other. We then shifted to small cubicles with full privacy. Turned out that our employees loved hiding in a corner and avoid seeing everybody” — Mike Mika, Chief Design Officer

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Privacy helps people get more work done

In an intriguing experiment named Decoding Game, two experts Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister compared the products of more than 600 programmers from 92 companies. They found that at the same level, there were some differences among companies.

The difference had nothing to do with experience or salary. It related to personal space, privacy, and free from distraction. 62% of high performers reported they got enough personal space while 19% was the result of the lowest performers. 76% of the worst programmers and 38% of the best performers reported that they often experienced unwanted interruptions.

Solitude also helps us learn much better. A research conducted by psychologist Anders Ericsson indicated that the best way to master a new subject is by working by yourself.

“On your own, you can approach and address the toughest problem. If you wanna improve, you should go forward, challenge yourself. In the classroom, you don’t even actively do anything. You are told to do something with somebody all the time”-Ericsson said

Conversely, the meetings are the worst places to create new ideas (also call brainstorming session). Alex Osborn-a CMO who believed that teams could bring up more ideas than individuals. The brainstorming meetings were preferred during the 1950s.

Osborn wrote: “ A group can produce 45 ideas to develop household appliances, 56 ideas to raise fund, 124 ideas to boost sale”

Yet, numerous studies showed that individuals performed better than teams in terms of quality and quantity. The more people in the group, the lower the efficiency.

Adrian Furnham — Professor of Psychology at University College London announced that “Talented employees should be encouraged to work independently to utilize their creativity”

When working in a group, people tend to be passive and let others cover their jobs. They follow others’ ideas unconsciously, hence losing their perspective. They also suffer from the pressure of coworkers.

Neuroscientist Gregory Berns from Emory University recognized that when detaching yourself from the crowd, you activate the amygdala, which is the clusters connect to the fear of rejection. Berns called it “ the pain of independence”

There is an exception to this phenomenon

Online brainstorming where teamwork displays higher results. The larger the groups, the better performance.

The screen has helped eradicated many problems of teamwork which explained why many wonderful inventions originated from the internet.

Marcel Proust — a French novelist called this “ the miracle of communication in loneliness”. The internet is the place where we can be lonely together.

I don't say that human is an island. Life is meaningless without love, trust, and friendship.

I don’t suggest we should boycott teamwork. Most academic publications today are the result of teamwork, not individuals. The problems we are facing in science, economics, and other topics are getting more complicated. We need people from different backgrounds to find solutions.

No matter how complex the matters, human nature remains unchanged. There are two opposite thoughts in our mind: we want to be accepted and loved, but we also desire privacy and independence simultaneously.

Final Thought

To balance those two opposite thoughts, we need to overcome the dominant team working styles and introduce a more efficient approach. The office should encourage interaction and allow people to have personal space at the same time.

At schools, children should be taught to work in groups and work independently in the long run. Those introverts need a more quiet and private room to achieve the best performance.

Before working at Apple, Wozniak designed computers at Hewlett-Packard. Every day, at 10 am and 2 pm, his colleagues gather in the lounge with some coffee and donut. They talked and shared ideas with each other.

For Wozniak, cooperation meant the ability to share the donuts and having the same brain frequency with those colleagues who never judged when he hid in his room to finish the jobs.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

Daniel St. Joseph

Written by

Dan is passionate about writing to motivate people and share his experience, knowledge to enhance personal development.|BSc Biochemistry|.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

Daniel St. Joseph

Written by

Dan is passionate about writing to motivate people and share his experience, knowledge to enhance personal development.|BSc Biochemistry|.

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

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