Why 2 heads aren’t always better than one

As I engage with the health community (Health professionals, patients & carers, third sector, Health researchers) locally and ideas on some of the problems and possible solutions start to be presented, I wanted to give some clarification why I am not approaching these problems in the usual way.

When trying to solve problems there is a common approach, particularly in business, of getting a group of people together and encouraging them to think of as many ideas as they can. Provided with the advice and support that no idea is wrong and can be as ‘outside of the box’ as they like. Sounds great, right? We’ve all been in this situation, we come up with some ideas. Do the ideas ever feel a little similar? Have you experienced ‘group thought’?

I just want to instil a little reflection at this point, why ‘brainstorming’ may not be the best approach, before I explain why this community will be different. When you came up with a group idea, how invested did you feel in that idea? Did you feel completely invested in it or just part of it? Did you feel completely interwoven with it, responsible for its success or failure?

What’s the problem with group ideas?

‘Brainstorming’, the idea of getting a group together and creating as many ideas as possible is the brain child of Alex Osborn. Its premise allows free thinking, encouraging the wild and exaggerated, not evaluating or criticising ideas. It was quickly adopted, and still is today, as the go-to approach to problem solving.

However, there are many factors that have come to light with this approach that may suggest it is not an ideal approach. Putting to one side the obvious effects of personality implications within the group, confidence in one’s ideas within the group and the idea of social matching, where individuals will reduce their level of productivity to match others in the group, there are some other reasons why group thought may be less beneficial.

There is evidence that individuals working on their own produce a higher quality and quantity of ideas. One of the reasons for this is due to personal ownership of the activity and ideas. Within a group there is ‘diffusion of responsibility’; essentially, the success or failure of the ideas are split amongst the group, rather than being the sole responsibility of the individual.

If the idea of an individual does well, the glory is theirs. If it fails, it is all on them. As a group, effort will diminish - the glory of success is less, as is the risk. Others can be blamed if things go wrong.

Working as a group can also reduce effort, the idea that ‘someone else will do it, so I won’t volunteer’. Perhaps even worse the dynamic of ‘I always volunteer, it’s someone else’s turn’.

So to be more creative, just go and sit in a room and think stuff up, right? I know you are smarter than that, but there are some tricks to stimulate creativity in yourself and others:

Utilise your subconscious: your subconscious mind is a powerful tool. Think back to a time when you tried to solve a problem, but it seemed too difficult, you decided to leave it, do something else and come back to it, then you just got it and solved it. You hadn’t been thinking about the problem, so what had happened? Your subconscious brain had solved it!

Your conscious and subconscious are similar to two opposing characters. Your conscious is loud, confident, can have some good ideas, but is not particularly imaginative. Your subconscious, on the other hand, is quieter, less confident, but very creative. What happens when you are given a problem and give it your full attention, you hear that loud conscious part of your brain, giving you ideas that are pretty good, but not all that creative. Now distract your conscious by focusing it on something else. The quieter, less confident part of your brain can let those truly innovative ideas come to the fore.

So prime your brain by focusing on the task, think about it and process it, but then have a break. Move your focus onto something else, something challenging - do a sudoko, crossword etc. then come back and let the new ideas flow.

Change your environment: Go for a walk in an unfamiliar place, preferably with trees. Firstly new and unfamiliar circumstances take your brain out of complacency, push it out of auto-pilot, get it more engaged.

Looking at trees and greenery is positively associated with increased creativity. It is hypothesised that improved creativity when looking at nature is due to the anxiety-alleviating nature of this activity. Seeing green, healthy plants suggests to our primal brains that there is plenty of food and we can relax, allowing our brains to become more creative. Either way it seems to work and merely having a pot plant on your desk can improve your creativity.

Play or lie down: Focus to much on the problem, worry about getting the ‘right’ answer and your brain becomes constrained. Worse still the stress can cause release of noradrenaline, a chemical shown to impede creativity. Play can break you out of this stress or over focus.

Why lie down? Interesting the same principle regarding noradrenaline. Higher cerebral levels of noradrenaline activate the locus coerulus, an area within your brain that when modulated by the reduction in noradrenaline results in increased creative innovation. Lying down may decrease the activation of the locus coerulus and reduce your cerebral noradrenaline levels.

What does this mean for the Community?

Well new ideas should be generated by the individual, who takes responsibility for that idea. The Community will help you to develop the skills and support you need to develop your idea, whilst also helping with areas that need expert input. As shown above, your ownership of the idea will drive it to its conclusion.

Also meet-ups may feel unorthodox, there will be breakouts, walks, alternative activities, play and space to lie down. If you are convinced, if this feels like you and your kind of group, you are going to want to come to the ‘Hacked Hackathon’ in November 2018. A one day event, to meet, think and get creative.

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