Without great solitude, no serious work is possible

If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it’s not because we are dumber than our forebears but because we just don’t care as much about ideas as they did. In effect, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passé. (Neal Gabler at NYT)

Susan Cain, in the following piece, argues that the reason great ideas aren’t exploding into our world is because creative individuals aren’t being allowed to come up with ideas on their own (at least in the corporate world, a little bit in academia). Instead of creating ideas in solitude like many great idea makers, there’s a fad called “groupthink.”

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in. 

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted…

…Solitude has long been associated with creativity and transcendence. “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible,” Picasso said. A central narrative of many religions is the seeker — Moses, Jesus, Buddha — who goes off by himself and brings profound insights back to the community.

Culturally, we’re often so dazzled by charisma that we overlook the quiet part of the creative process. Consider Apple. In the wake of Steve Jobs’s death, we’ve seen a profusion of myths about the company’s success. Most focus on Mr. Jobs’s supernatural magnetism and tend to ignore the other crucial figure in Apple’s creation: a kindly, introverted engineering wizard, Steve Wozniak, who toiled alone on a beloved invention, the personal computer. (Susan Cain at NYT)

I like these articles because I’m an introvert and come up with genius ideas in solitude all the time that can change the world.

NPR also has a piece on “What to think about think tanks” which looks at how often even NPR reporters don’t know what think tanks are about. 

Where do you come up with big ideas?

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4 thoughts on “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible

  1. I like “culture” articles like these from the NYT – because they often form and articulate the very ideas THIS article is talking about – the big (or bigger, or bigger-ish) ideas that help us make sense of the world around us. Thanks for sharing this!

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