Solitude: The Basis of Creativity

Solitude: The Basis of Creativity

I often find it nearly impossible to write during the normal work day. I cannot concentrate on my own thoughts long enough to put them down on paper. The majority of the time, I save my writing for night when it’s just me and my computer. During this time, my ideas pour out onto paper nearly effortlessly. My daytime writer’s block could be a byproduct of my email notifications and IMs popping up in the corner of my computer screen or the noise in my house (I work from home), but what it if is a result of something entirely different?

There is an idea circulating brought to light by Susan Cain that our society is so enthralled with extroversion that it builds our institutions to accommodate those individuals who need large amounts of stimulation. She explains that this new belief system – what she calls New Groupthink – “holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place.” In this system, society holds the idea that there is a constant need for collaboration, rather than giving individuals the space to come to their ideas on their own. But what if we are actually being counterproductive by forcing people into “groupthink?”

Some of the greatest minds in history came up with their profound ideas tucked away from society. Ms. Cain uses the example of Darwin; I use the example of Einstein, who clearly understood this notion. He said, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” Not only have these historical minds understood the power of solitude, Ms. Cain explains that we can go back much further in history and look at Moses, Jesus, the Buddha, and Muhammad, who all came to their revelations on a journey of solitude, far away from the influence of others.

After reading about Ms. Cain’s ideas, I spent the next hour or so thinking in solitude about the possibilities. Imagine the possibilities if we could stop collaborating for just a moment and explore our own minds. I fought with the idea that, without solitude and contemplation, the great minds mentioned above might not have come to their revelations, which would be a great loss to society. This is the point Ms. Cain is trying to make. She is not urging us to eliminate all collaboration, but rather to make time for thinking in solitude as well. So, the question she and many others ask is, how have we forgotten that thinking as an individual is just as important as collaboration?

In your opinion, do we as a society focus too much on collaboration in the workplace rather than letting individuals’ ideas and creativity prosper? Can you think of situations in which one approach might be more appropriate?

Please join me in the discussion and share your ideas by leaving a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Please note that this blog contains a short summary of Susan Cain’s ideas, and if you are interested in learning more, read her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Don’t have time to read the book? Watch the related TED Talk instead.

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