If there’s a perfect model for ideation it can probably be found in the dynamic group atmosphere of improv comedy, such as in troupes like Second City and of course Saturday Night Live. This has finally been written up – by none other than Malcolm Gladwell – in a recent New Yorker article, Group Think. In it, Gladwell, draws on SNL’s turbulent history and finds a parallel with, of all things, German philosophy and a new book about the social dimension of innovation by Jenny Uglow called The Lunar Men to show just how much good ideas depend not on superstar individuals but rather on all-star teams of people.
Uglow’s book reveals how simplistic our view of groups really is. We divide them into cults and clubs, and dismiss the former for their insularity and the latter for their banality. The cult is the place where, cut off from your peers, you become crazy. The club is the place where, surrounded by your peers, you become boring. Yet if you can combine the best of those two states—the right kind of insularity with the right kind of homogeneity—you create an environment both safe enough and stimulating enough to make great thoughts possible. You get Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, and a revolution in Western philosophy. You get Darwin, Watt, Wedgwood, and Priestley, and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. And sometimes, on a more modest level, you get a bunch of people goofing around and bringing a new kind of comedy to network television.
(via the resurrected Arts & Letters Daily)