How to Be Creative (Courtesy of Albert Einstein)

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AlbertEinstein 300x292 How to Be Creative (Courtesy of Albert Einstein)

Albert Einstein:  “I am a horse for a single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork; for well I know that in order to attain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person do the thinking and the commanding.”

I understand precious little of Einstein’s theory of relativity, but I’ve learned a lot from him just by reading his musings on life.  When it came to passionate curiosity and a perfectly balanced love of solitude and humanity, Einstein (a consummate introvert) was the master.

I especially appreciate this bit about the need to work autonomously, because it runs against the current thinking that creativity is a fundamentally collaborative act. (I call our contemporary obsession with collaboration the “New Groupthink” and critique it extensively in my forthcoming book.)

What do you think about collaboration?  When you’re working on a creative or analytic project, do you prefer to work in tandem or on your own?  I’m not talking about online collaborations, which are more like being “alone together.”  I’m more curious about whether you like to work interactively in the physical company of others.

Just to kick off the discussion: my all-time favorite work environment is a sunny cafe full of people with laptops, where I can enjoy other people’s energy but still feel free to think my own thoughts. I always say that I owe my writing career to one cafe in particular, Doma (in Greenwich Village, New York City). I wrote my entire book there.

What about you? (and please don’t feel obliged to agree with me!  I’m really interested in hearing about all different kinds of preferred work environments.)


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16 Comments

  1. Jen A on 08.02.2011 at 13:20 (Reply)

    Just as in anything else, I think there are people who work very well collaboratively and people who work better independently. I am also largely an independent worker, but there are times when I want to collaborate with others. I have an introverted friend who works better collaboratively with one or two trusted colleagues. So…it depends, on who you are, how you work, and what you’re working on. Just my two cents ;)

  2. Rachel on 08.02.2011 at 13:22 (Reply)

    I prefer to do creative work on my own, but then get together with others later to get feedback on my work. I can’t come up with much creative material while in the company of others. I suppose there are too many distractions. Also, I think I might I get a bit self-conscious in a group setting, which hampers creative thinking.

    Great site, by the way. I made my way over here on referral from The Happiness Project. I look forward to checking out your book when it’s available next year.

  3. Teresa on 08.02.2011 at 13:27 (Reply)

    My boss encourages me to talk and collaborate more, but I find that it slows my creative process down. I’d rather finish the project on my own, then seek feedback. As for my work environment, I day-dream about how great it would be to work from home, without the distractions of over-the-cubicle conversations. But when I do work at home, it’s too quiet to think.

  4. Jeff on 08.02.2011 at 13:40 (Reply)

    I second the always unpopular “It depends” answer. Because it does. Certain types of work require collaboration … As an example, things whose output requires active, engaged support of many stakeholders. Often, the very best way to achieve this is to have those same folks part of the creation (not necessarily creative) process from the beginning so they have real “buy in” into the final product. Or the rescue plan for Apollo 13 put together by a room full of NASA engineers.

    To over generalize, I would say, the “creative” the work, the less collaboration is needed or helpful. But again, it depends. There are plenty of examples of famously creative collaborations, but in them each needs their creative space.

  5. Doug on 08.02.2011 at 13:51 (Reply)

    I am at my most creative when left alone to my own thoughts — working out, in the shower, lunch by myself, etc. Unfortunately, finding such moments of beneficial solitude is not always an easy task (though, yes, I do shower every day!).

  6. Luna on 08.02.2011 at 15:27 (Reply)

    I am very much looking forward to reading your book. I think it is true that some people work more creatively in groups but I wonder if you were to watch those groups carefully if you would not sometimes find that one person is generating a lot of the ideas while other people springboard from them and perhaps that one soul is longing to break free and find a quiet place to work on their own! Working in groups is something my child has always found unpleasant in school yet he is well liked, socially adept and will offer assistance to others when asked. It is something I do not enjoy either. I find group work noisy, busy and exhausting.

  7. Lori on 08.02.2011 at 16:26 (Reply)

    I absolutely love the title of your website (and book)!

    I’ve heard many comments over the years that an an introvert is someone who is shy and insecure (along with a few other less than shining adjectives). I’ve even heard it suggested that introverts are too self-absorbed to interact with others. I am neither shy nor insecure, but I am definitely an introvert. I can’t think on the fly. I can barely think out loud. While working in the quiet of my home sounds appealing, I know that it would soon become as deafening as a mob at Grand Central Station. For me, balance is key. I have to be alone to think, to create, and to solve but I need time with others to feed my thought processes.

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  9. Scott on 08.02.2011 at 16:59 (Reply)

    Like you, what I like about coffeeshops is that I can be around people and yet be able to be alone and work. I can be social while still being extroverted!

  10. Timaree (freebird) on 08.02.2011 at 17:10 (Reply)

    I find I work best alone. When I am doing my artwork I occasionally need input and I’ll ask for it. Otherwise I work without people, music or video. When I did work outside the home, I preferred solitary work over group work definitely.

    You asked if I had a blog. I do. It’s just a creative blog, not an intellectual one: http://freebirdsings.blogspot.com

  11. Tricia Rose on 09.02.2011 at 07:04 (Reply)

    It’s 4 am so I have just added you Google Reader for the morning- but I’m excited!

  12. LeAnne on 09.02.2011 at 07:19 (Reply)

    There is a group that I manage that feels they must work collaboratively on everything. The group dynamic is such that it is a difficult road to consensus. As their manager, I’ve been able to use push issues closure that they are happy to debate ad nauseaum, but it is not an easy task. They seem to thrive on marathon work sessions and conference calls, and it totally wears me out. In order to get my work done and preserve my energy, I have mostly bowed out of those conference calls and let them do their thing. They pitch their work back to me, and I pitch what I’ve been working on back to them. They provide feedback to me as a group, and I take all of it back to my hole and organize it into a final result. This approach seems to strike a balance between their need for constant collaboration, and my need to work alone.

  13. Mark on 09.02.2011 at 11:17 (Reply)

    Good points all around, I get some great thinking done siting by a fire in the back yard. That being said, a good group think works week sometimes too

  14. Susie on 14.02.2011 at 13:31 (Reply)

    I like to think together, work alone.

  15. Min on 25.07.2012 at 02:00 (Reply)

    Although I occasionally do not mind working in a cafe’ like environment, my favorite working environment is that of a library. I’d love to sit at a desk next to a glass window, where I can stare at the snow or rain falling down at my break time. To me walking (or some might say pacing) is the best posture to generate ideas. So next to my work desk, there should be a straight pathway at least 20 feet long for me to walk up and down while thinking or digesting what I just read. It’ll surely be my ideal work environment. Of course, not far away from my work space should be a functioning water fountain and a nice clean restroom, but no noisy people should be around, at least not inside that glass window. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t dislike people in general at regular time. It’s just that when I want concentration, their presence usually disrupt my thought patterns.

  16. asiimwe david on 16.05.2013 at 05:25 (Reply)

    i can’t fail to admit that your website has become one of the best websites i have found interesting,and because of it i have started realizing some results in my life. thank you.

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