Collaboration, committees and consensus

I recently read Damn Good Advice (For People With Talent!). It’s a collection of 120 vignettes which form a broad autobiographical narrative of George Lois‘ career interwoven with his key advertising lessons. One of those lessons, ‘Reject Group Grope’, rallies against the formation of large teams to solve problems or create ideas.

“Think about this: Decisive, breakthrough creative decision-making is almost always made by one, two, or possibly three minds working in unison, take it or leave it. Collective thinking usually leads to stalemate or worse. And the smarter the individuals in the group, the harder it is to nail the idea. Certainly, in my experience as a mass communicator and cultural provocateur, I know this to be absolutely true: Group thinking and decision-making results in group grope.”

This stood out to me as it conflicts with the common assumption that an increase in the amount of people working on a problem will result in a better solution.

But it seems this perspective is not unusual.

Here’s David Ogilvy in Ogilvy on Advertising:

Most campaigns are too complicated. They reflect a long list of objectives, and try to reconcile the divergent views of too many executives. By attempting to cover too many things, they achieve nothing.

Many commercials and many advertisements look like the minutes of a committee. In my experience, committees can criticise, but they cannot create.

Search the parks in all your cities. You’ll find no statues of committees.

And then there’s this from John Hegarty‘s book “Hegarty on Creativity”.

“Much today is written about collaboration and the need to work or brainstorm with others in order to to bring an idea to fruition.

It’s all very friendly and inclusive but be careful: Collaboration can easily turn into consensus.

Which rapidly becomes ordinary. Sitting around on beanbags holding hands and having a happy-clappy meeting will not lead to greatness.

Some people believe you can create brilliance by brainstorming with lots of people.

Well, you can’t.”

Or to quote perhaps the most impactful line in Hegarty’s paragraph:

“Collaboration becomes consensus.”

Three greats, one opinions. But I’ll leave the last word to the inimitable Bob Hoffman:

“What I am against is the fantasy that creativity is the result of group hugs and harmonious collaborations. You want creativity? Hire talent. End of story.”