Book Review: Group Genius

Group Genius - The Creative Power of Collaboration by Keith Sawyer

Keith Sawyer's main theory is that innovation doesn't happen when a lone genius has a rare flash of insight; Innovation, he says, always emerges from a group and the lone genius is a myth.

I saw Keith Sawyer speak at the Creativity World Forum in Hasselt, Belgium, in 2011 and also attended his creativity workshop there (in fact, I found one of the exercises we did in the book). I bought this book shortly after CWF11 but only now came around to actually reading it. I wish I had done so sooner!

In "Group Genius", Sawyer makes a compelling case for his theory. He points out how all the well-known inventions that we think to have come from a single inventor have instead really emerged from a process that not only involved a group of people but that also took a lot of time. The famous flash of insight is only a small piece of the bigger puzzle - it's a result of previous work by others and it's in no way the end of the process; on the contrary - it's often only the beginning of the path towards an actual usable product.

Keith Sawyer Along the way, Keith Sawyer looks into improvisation, creativity, flow and collaboration. He analyses which environments work (and don't work) for fostering creativity. He also looks at some of the downsides of group processes, like group think, and closes the book with an analysis of how patents are bad for driving innovation and what we should do to fix them.

The myth of the lone inventor has already been debunked by other authors, e.g. by Scott Berkun in "The Myths of Innovation". Keith Sawyer takes things one step further by pointing out that real innovation is always based on the collected insights of a group.

Group Genius does not only serve to back Sawyer's pet theory (which is rather convincing), but it's also a great resource if you're looking for a definition of innovation or if you want to understand how creativity works and how to support it in your environment. On that note, I'd recommend it especially for executives who think they are already fostering creativity in their company - you may be in for a few surprises.

Creative Commons Licence "Book Review: Group Genius" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.


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