Collaboration often crushes creativity under the weight of Consensus



mediocrity average forever suck

Here is the thought:


Collaboration and Consensus often generate a generalist idea.


In other words … mediocrity.


In the end the consensus ideas may be appealing to the masses (and therefore the group in general) but lacks the distinctness and “edges” that could differentiate it.




That said (before I start hearing the screams of anguish from everyone who advocates the power of collaboration).




I am all for collaboration. I believe it uncovers well-rounded ideas and sometimes even creates that unique “wow” idea in discussion. But collaboration is like a bell curve.


In the beginning, because collaboration doesn’t come naturally to specialists (and it shouldn’t because specialists are good at what they do because they are…well…specialized), you are at the bottom side of the bell curve. This time in the collaboration process is pretty nonproductive and there is (or should be) a lot of banging together of different disciplines and knowledge.



That’s okay.

I call this stage “positive friction.” Some pushing and shoving and jostling for ideas.



Somehow the collaborators involved learn to collaborate (typically there is some generalist who is better than others at figuring out how to not only get everyone to “play well together” but also figure out what pieces of the puzzle are most interesting and useful and get them placed on the table to discuss). And ideas start flowing and being discussed and debated.



From that point the collaborators are moving on up (to use a Jefferson’s reference). You are aiming toward the top of the bell curve. And this is where the ‘bigger’ ideas <and sharper insights> arise.


The ideas that are awesome and distinct and, frankly, almost undoable (for a variety of reasons).


Unfortunately that is when you start heading back down the bell curve.


This is also where a great generalist stops themselves (maybe not everyone else but themselves) and captures ideas into two groups:


1. The non-doable ideas because of truly functional reasons.


They were, and are, great ideas. Ideas that could put the company on the map (or keep them ahead of everyone else). They just cannot operationally be done at this time. Maybe you don’t have the ingredient that can deliver the “wow” aspect. Or the factories are not capable of producing it. Or your service people just can’t do it. Interestingly, these are the types of ideas a company needs.


These are truly the innovation ideas that the company needs to assess and throw into a new products funnel or feasibility studies to see whether it is worth the investment to make the idea functionally “happenable” (not really a word but I liked typing it).


2. The non-doable ideas because of…well…politics or such.


They are “too hard to implement.”

“Betsy (some senior person) will hate the idea.”

“Well, it goes against policy.”

Crap like that. These are the great ideas that are gonna die as you move down the “consensus” side of the bell curve.


Sadly many great ideas get killed off because of consensus.


Now that the collaborators are moving down the bell curve this is when creativity typically gets crushed.


If you don’t have that generalist (or a way to capture those great ideas) the group starts heading into Consensus Land (sometimes called the Bermuda Triangle of Ideas).




Consensus means “gray.” Or maybe I could just say that during consensus great ideas just keep in getting filed down. Unless you have a truly unique leadership group (that have a meaningful system for agreeing to ‘wild & crazy’ ideas) as soon as the group gets involved you evolve to the middle.


It is easy to get to that place.

Less objections and less obstacles to “getting it done.”


This whole consensus thing gets even worse when it gets driven down into the middle management level.


So let’s play this out.


Senior leaders in their infinite wisdom want to empower the “little people” (ok … the people less senior) so they put a group of them together and say “bring me ideas your group supports.”


Uh oh. The group.


The group who all want to be promoted.


The group who doesn’t want to look stupid.


The group which may be made up of people with different bosses who have different agendas.


The group that wants to look fiscally responsible.


The group is now in trouble <in other words … the Ideas are now in trouble>.

The group will not select a bright color. Gray, baby, gray. Or something very very neutral that blends into the background of anyone who may have to approve it. No sharp edges anyone can get stabbed with and something nice an soft and fluffy so everyone likes it.


Nowadays it is the fashion to pretend that no single individual is ever responsible for a successful advertising campaign. This emphasis on “teamwork” is bunkum – a conspiracy of the mediocre majority.

– David Ogilvy

danced on the edge

So go ahead and collaborate to your heart’s content. You will be creative. Just avoid the last “C” (consensus). And maybe you will end up with the innovation your company needs.


To summarize.


I believe in my heart of hearts the greatest ideas arise from individuals. And it takes a unique “individual” who is willing to share this idea and truly accept the grinding it takes to take a diamond in the rough to the Hope diamond. I also think it takes some unique individuals who love the true art of diamond grinding (they have to be a little selfless). If you can get the collaborators collaborating and not trying to come up with a consensus idea you have a fighting chance of getting “the diamond.”

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Written by Bruce