Tag Archives: decision sciences

Do You Like Working Alone, in Teams, or Both?

Did you perhaps catch The Rise of the New Groupthink on the NYtimes.com last week? Here’s author Susan Cain’s interesting lead …New York Times Page

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 …

It’s not that teamwork is bad, but rather that alone work isn’t bad either. It feels like we need to respect both, and the need to approach different problems in different ways. When pendulums swing too far, we go back.

Confession: when I was in business school I avoided group projects as much as I could get away with. When assigned to a team, I sometimes negotiated breaking off a part of the project that I could do by myself.

Susan cites Apple and Steve Jobs and the early history of the company as a good example:

In the wake of Steve Jobs’s death, we’ve seen a profusion of myths about the company’s success. Most focus on Mr. Jobs’s supernatural magnetism and tend to ignore the other crucial figure in Apple’s creation: a kindly, introverted engineering wizard, Steve Wozniak, who toiled alone on a beloved invention, the personal computer.

I’m going to finish this with Susan’s choice of quote from Steve Wozniak’s autobiography:

Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me … they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone …. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.

Think about it. Alone.

Good Business Decisions Aren’t Made by Vote

Have you heard this? It’s not mine, I think it’s sort of common knowledge:

If the decisions were made by consensus, every wall would be painted beige.

fingers planning

As my business grew up from entrepreneurial to stable, we had to redo our decision process. Early on, we sat around, a few of us, discussed and decided. That was when there were 10 or 12 of us. I guess I made a lot of the final decisions, because it was my work, my product, and my company. But it often felt like consensus. And it seemed to work.

But it didn’t work forever. After a while — a few years, really, but it seemed like a blink of the eye — we were 30-40 people. And we had programmers and bookkeepers not just chiming in on decisions about, say, packaging and web designs … but feeling alienated if their opinions weren’t given enough weight. And here’s what I learned:

Good business decisions aren’t done by votes

Ultimately, we had to learn that we’d evolved into a structure based on functional expertise, and we wanted our financial people minding cash flow and taxes, our development people writing code, and our marketing people deciding on packaging, web strategies, and social media. And that hurt some feelings. But it improved the business.

Businesses that grow must also grow up.

(Image: Big Stock Photo)

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Harness the Power of Procrastination

(Suggested background music: the Rolling Stones, Time is on My Side)

With all the hoopla we make about decision making and how much we frown on waiting, sometimes putting a decision off is the best thing you can do.

Line drawing

I got this in a decision sciences class at business school. While not everything in decision sciences is to be taken as gospel, try this one on:

Never make a decision now when there is no penalty for waiting.

Shocking as that might seem, it’s good practice. Think about it: Often there is a penalty for waiting. Flights get booked, projects fall behind schedule, windows close. But when there isn’t a penalty — and you know, if you think about it, when there is and when there isn’t — then wait and see. You’ll be glad you waited.

This is especially important when you know there is more information coming. Wait, breathe, keep your options open, and see what happens. We agreed, by definition, that we’re talking about the decisions that don’t carry a penalty for waiting. So wait.

Here’s a corollary:

Never make a decision now when there is no penalty for waiting, and there is more information coming.

Good decision making doesn’t mean jumping in fast and all decided, even if you could wait, and even if there’s more information coming. And yet, if you watch for it, you’ll often see people jumping early.

When time is on your side, wait.