In the Final Comprehensive of my Landscape Design Course, we had to work in teams of three. I was in a group with two other talented people (both professional designers), and our task was to redesign a small park on the campus of GW.
We brainstormed. We sketched. We had meetings — many, many meetings. We discussed. We argued. We tried to change one another’s minds and we attempted compromise.
In the end, I don’t think any of us were particularly pleased with what we’d designed, and neither were our professors.
It was a frustrating experience.
I recalled this experience as I read a fascinating book called Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. The book is about how our society — whether it’s politics, the workplace, school — has come to reward extroversion to an almost embarrassing degree, and suggests that we begin to value the unique contributions of introverts.
The author, Susan Cain, also presents loads of research to suggest that our current infatuation with “Collaboration” is overblown at best. Group brainstorming, for example, has been shown in myriad research studies to be completely ineffective, often hindering individual creativity. The best creative work, it seems, is accomplished by individuals working alone (think Steve Wozniak, Albert Einstein, WB Yeats).
Which is why, I believe, the design my group produced during my Comprehensive course was less than stellar. I believe that — had we each worked alone — we would have created three superior designs instead of one mediocre one. (I also believe that designing individually would not have taken any longer — that the time we saved by splitting up drawing tasks was less than the time we wasted meeting, arguing, and emailing over details.)
If you are a designer, I would be curious to know how often you work with teams during the design phase and how that works out for you. I realize that the large scope of some landscape design projects makes working in teams necessary, but I’m talking more about the conceptual phase, I guess. Do any of you actually work with others to come up with the initial concept of a design? How does that work? Do you ever feel your ideas are compromised?
I ask, too, because I am aware that my own profession — education — worships at the altar of Teamwork and Collaboration. God forbid you are the kind of teacher who stands in front of the class delivering a lecture, and then allows the students to sit quietly and work independently. No, everything now is “Cooperative Learning” and “Peer-to-Peer” “Group Projects” and “Collaborative Teams.” And I believe that educational bureaucrats justify this model because they feel they are preparing students for the “real world” of business, where apparently everybody works in teams all the time.
So I am curious to hear from designers — or from anybody else in a creative profession — about your thoughts on working in teams. When you work with others, is your imagination energized or stifled? Are your best ideas nurtured by your colleagues? Or hindered by them?