Unsociable people are more creative because they don’t fear solitude.

Now that COVID-19 has put most social habits on hold and work has shifted consistently to the virtual space, it’s time to reset some well-established practices and beliefs. To rethink them; to debunk long-lasting myths such as that brainstorming in a group makes people more creative.

“Sometimes you need a little crisis to get your adrenaline flowing and help you realize your potential.” —J. Walls

Carve out time alone. Fearlessly.

Don’t fear this situation of social withdrawal, because people who embrace unsociability tend to be more creative. Evidence shows that what matters is the motivation driving isolation: “Anxiety-free time spent in solitude may allow for, and foster, creative thinking and work,” points out researcher Julie Bowker in a recent article.

Translate learnings into practical advice for your team.

Teams focused on execution and collaboration tend to look negatively at reflection and creative isolation. That’s why the cultural shift happens gradually, once a new routine is established. Reframe this time of distancing as an opportunity to set time aside for fruitful ideation:

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

1. Generate Ideas Separately

Half a century of research has proved that brainstorming groups are less creative than individuals. In the former, the participants get involved in social relations – and the related taboos. But teams are the backbone of modern organizations, thus brainstorming has become the star among all problem-solving approaches. People have come to believe that collaboration is the condition for better creativity. But this has been proved wrong.

Creativity is a solitary art.

When you have a creative assignment, set the terms of the problem, then let everybody work at the task on their own. Participants should write down ideas on paper sheets in a given time before meeting with the rest of the group for evaluation and cross-fertilization.

2. Brainstorm Only to Evaluate and Combine Ideas

You want to reunite your team after everybody has brainstormed individually. Collect the sheets and discuss the ideas. Usually, participants vote for the best idea or combine different ideas into one final version. This brainstorming should happen as a relatively short meeting. 

Participants can also keep brainwriting during the creative brainstorming – to criticise and discuss based on the given ideas. You might opt for anonymity so that people can focus on criticising the idea, not the person.

3. Give Rules, Goals, and Meaningful Feedback

That creativity works better when there are no rules is a myth.

Set clear goals for all stages of your creative sessions. People can identify with a given goal and feel more driven to achieve. Moreover, constructive feedback is helpful during the evaluation phase of an idea.

A recent study shows that positive feedback can enhance creative fluency, provided that leaders have a good vision and knowledge about how to positively affect the ideation process in real time. Directive feedback has to do with stimulation, not with control and negativity.

4. Strive for Ideational Fluency

Generate ideas quickly; generate many. Encourage people not to censure themselves even if they believe their ideas to be rudimentary. The more ideas you produce, the more chances you have to find that one breakthrough idea. This is D.K. Simonton’s “equal odds rule.” It states: “The relationship between the number of hits (i.e., creative successes) and the total number of works produced in a given time period is positive, linear, stochastic, and stable.”

Behaving like a perfectionist who’s waiting for the one breakthrough idea is not the right strategy. The more ideas produced per individual, the higher the chance of producing good ones.

5. Foster a Culture of Dissent

Office culture tends toward conformism; it levels opinions and ideas to a gray average. But it’s dissent that fosters creativity and divergent thinking. Disagreers, challengers, devil’s advocates – these are the creativity boosters that every organization needs. Therefore, allow everybody to be inappropriate.

Competing views stimulate divergent thinking way more than consensual opinions. Although politeness and non-evaluation constitute core brainstorming instructions, evidence shows that the opposite is true: “The freedom or permission to critique, even criticise, can create an atmosphere of freedom and enhance the generation of creative ideas.”

Introduce these methods into your team’s existing creative process a step at a time. Cultural change will happen – and more interesting ideas will pop up. Confinement constitutes an opportunity for positive social withdrawal, once you leave fears, controlling drives, and anxieties behind. Being unsocial can be so good.

Originally published on Medium.com.

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