Ideas and Groups - John C. Wunsch, P.C.
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Ideas and Groups

Working as a group––its own complex puzzle. “The three main factors affecting a team’s cohesion (working together well) are: environmental, personal, and leadership.”[1]Varying perspectives, differing viewpoints, joined to solve a single complex problem. How can each member of the group be successful? How can one person assist, or resist, another to reach an optimal solution?

Groups fail to perform optimally for any number of reasons. Stasis. The group fails to improve or evolve, falling into safe and comfortable, but not necessarily better, habits of behavior. Disorganization. The group is not optimally designed, with multiple layers of waste, excess, and duplication.Lack of a shared vision. Lack of a clear vision as to the group’s true purpose. Lack of practice and training. The group has not been adequately trained, and the hours of practice necessary to perfect technique and to achieve outstanding results, have not occurred.

There’s literature which describes a phenomenon known as “evaluation apprehension:” “Evaluation apprehension occurs when “the fear of negative evaluations from other group members or external members prevents participants who are working in groups from presenting their more original ideas” (Diehl and Stroebe, 1987). That is, because people may worry about negative evaluations from group members, they will generate fewer ideas when working together. Evaluation apprehension has negative effects on group idea generation. Collaros and Anderson (1969) set up three experimental conditions. In the high-evaluation apprehension group, four group members were informed separately that the other three members were experts; in the low-evaluation apprehension group, four group members were informed separately that one member of their group was an expert; and the members in the control group did not receive any information about their group members. The results revealed that the control group members produced the largest number of ideas, and the group which was informed that all other group members were experts produced the fewest. A post-experimental survey showed that the more a person thinks that he/she is surrounded by experts, the more threats he/she perceives, which in turn prevents him/her from providing more ideas.”

A room full of self-described experts “will generate fewer ideas”––how often have we seen this in a variety of contexts, including the legal realm. “People may worry about negative evaluations from group members”––rather than take risks, the tendency is to play it safe. Particularly at “elite” or “selective” institutions, it takes real insight and vision to break free of preconceived notions. This form of inertia can be self-perpetuating since what initially enabled access was acceptance and conformity. The one–dimensional tool of peer–group evaluation works too well––an appraisal nothing more than an indirect method of perpetuating the conventional wisdom.

Camacho and Paulus (1995) examined the presence of individual differences in evaluation apprehension. Using the Interactive Anxiety Scale, they divided participants into low and high anxiety groups. The group type (real and nominal groups) interacted with the degree of interaction anxiety (low and high). Additionally, they found that, in real groups, low interaction anxiety level significantly increased the number of ideas generated. In addition, high-anxiety participants expressed hesitation in expressing their own ideas during the idea generation task. Thus, it was concluded that evaluation apprehension can lead to group productivity deficits and that it is better to choose a group of members with low interaction anxiety to avoid decrease in productivity.”

Groups can be thought of as a living thing, an organism, but they also can be thought of as a physical system, a type of machine, a mechanical device with multiple moving parts. Recognizing this artificial duality opens up a new way of evaluating groups since groups should work well together both organically (that is, mindfully, with feeling and sensation) as well as mechanistically (that is, at least to some extent, prepared and programmed, without reactivity). Change for the sake of change is not optimal, either. To keep watch for opportunities––and to learn and grow from that which exists beyond one’s control.

“In our daily life, collaborative idea generation is a widely used working technique, which is often applied to the conceptual design group (Sutton and Hargadon, 1996), the research team and various other forms of collaborative groups. However, the productivity loss caused by collaborative idea generation is also an ongoing concern of researchers. Based on the results of this study, we speculate that when individuals work in a group, they will: (1) pay too much attention to evaluation when surrounded by people, resulting in evaluation apprehension and (2) tend to conform to other group members, as well as fixate their ideas on the existing ideas of others. Both of the points above will limit individuals’ creativity and reduce the number and categories of ideas. This kind of influence will finally result in productivity deficits, which means that when people work together, they will generate fewer ideas than work alone. Furthermore, this study also tended to explore effective strategies to weaken the negative effects. According to the results of Experiment 2 and Experiment 3, we draw support from previous studies that relaxation and interference task in the incubation interval significantly diminish the negative effects of exposure to other people’s ideas.”

So, what are some characteristics of high–functioning groups? They defy probabilities. They reset the boundary lines. They achieve results others thought not possible. They devise entirely new ways of thinking and translate these ideas into real–world results. They persuade others––persuasion here characterized as nothing more than a form of heightened common sense. They are untethered to the past, willing to cut moorings and move beyond. The impose order on chaos. They inspire others.

“In summary, this study focused on the social factors and cognitive processes that influence collaborative idea generation using the research paradigm of group creativity generation, evaluation of concern induction, and incubation paradigm. Additionally, this study explored the impact of perspective exposure, evaluation apprehensions, and incubation intervals on cooperative innovation productivity through three experiments. The results showed that the second half of the group’s idea generation with exposure and evaluation apprehension led to a reduction in the number and type of ideas generated by the groups. Further, these factors had an interaction effect on the number of creative ideas generated. Compared to that in participants with no exposure, in the case of exposure, the impact of evaluation apprehension on the quantitative productivity of cooperative innovation ideas was weak. The addition of incubation intervals helped to increase innovation productivity, suggesting that relax and task transitions are beneficial for reducing the negative impact of exposure on idea generation.”

High–functioning groups share other characteristics as well. Adaptive. These groups are capable of adapting quickly in response to changed circumstances. Regenerative. These groups are capable of regenerating something new from that which has been lost or amputated. Transformative. These groups are capable of transforming themselves into something different, something better suited to achieving a particular goal or result. Successful groups are not instinctual or innate. They can be the product of both lucky accident as well as careful planning. It’s probably true that the definition of a successful group is one where both the group, and each member within it, succeed to a degree beyond expectation.

Then there’s the question of quality. “Further to Triplett’s observation, in 1920, Floyd Allport found that although people in groups were more productive than individuals, the quality of their product/effort was inferior.”[2]Quality is a deep, multifaceted mirror––it stares back, fixed, unblinking. Paradoxically, hiring only the “best” people does not necessarily insure a successful group. Duplicative ideas and identical perspectives may short circuit the group’s synergy. Perhaps the most apt question is simply to ask: how can the group best be shaped to insure both the success of the group and those within it?

Quotations from: Xiang Zhou, Hong-Kun Zhai, Bibi Delidabieke, Hui Zeng, Yu-Xin Cui, Xue Cao, Exposure to Ideas, Evaluation Apprehension, and Incubation Intervals in Collaborative Idea Generation, Psychol., 04 July 2019 / https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01459/full

[1]Group Dynamics, Wikipedia/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_dynamics

[2]Group Dynamics, Wikipedia/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_dynamics

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