27 January 2012

A Troubling Trend

I’ve been trying to put finger on why the recent emphasis on group work is so troubling:

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, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

Consider this as well:

‘You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain dead as well,’ said Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit at the institute, who led the study.
He explained that when volunteers in a group were told how the others performed, it lowered their problem-solving abilities.

Basically, the modern education system, which certainly includes postsecondary institutions, is sowing the seeds of Idiocracy.  This is accomplished by encouraging—and in some cases demanding—group work, which has the effect of lowering intelligence.  This probably happens because humans are social creatures who will generally sacrifice being correct for group conformity.  But the effects of this trend are undeniable:  group thinking makes us less intelligent.  My own personal experience bears this out as well.

Group work, and group think, under the guise of productive collaboration is pernicious because it precludes people from introspection and reduces their willingness to take risks.  When you’re around other people, you want to fit in.  You focus on everyone else in your group—what they think, what they feel about you.  You worry about them, and how they’ll act and how you will respond.  And instead of examining yourself, instead of focusing on what you want, on what you should do, you focus on others.  And you don’t take risks, for fear of offending others.  And that’s why groups are so detrimental, for you never have a chance to focus on self-improvement.

This invites the suspicion that all this focus on group work is nothing more than an attempt at prepping the future generation for a leap into collectivism.  For starters, people will be used to it, both in theory and in practice.  But more than that, because people are trained to think in groups, few people will be independently-minded enough to reject collectivism and the inevitable problems that arise therefrom.

Of course, it’s possible that there is no secret conspiracy.  There is simply an intersection of well-intentioned idiots who are unable to foresee the detrimental consequences of this policy. Either way, though, we’re dead.


  1. Groupwork is meant to cultivate groupthink.

  2. @SP- it sure is. That's probably why I found it to be so mind-numbing in high school and college.

    By the way, it's good to see you back in the blogosphere again.