The Math of Creative Collaboration


Become an Indispensable Creative Collaborator


Lesson Info

The Math of Creative Collaboration

And we're gonna talk about the math of creative collaboration. Now, if you've watched my other CreativeLive course, I dig into this from a leadership and teamwork standpoint. The idea that there is actual mathematical proofs behind how people can get better or worse when they collaborate. We're gonna talk a little bit about that from the individual standpoint here in this class. But if you want to learn more, you can check out my other class. I want to talk about the lie that we've been told our whole lives, both in school and at work, which is that two heads are better than one. And it turns out that that's a lie. Two heads are not usually better than one. This thing called synergy is not true. Synergy is this thing that, you remember the book, the Sever Habits of Highly Creative People, or Highly Effective People. It talks about how the most, the pinnacle of human achievement in working together is to have synergy, where you come together and you're magically more than the sum of you...

r parts. Turns out that does not usually happen. It almost never happens. One of my favorite experiments is when they put people in groups and have, and told them to yell as loud as they could. The scientists then, that actually measured the decibels that people yelled at, turns out in a group of six, you yell 74% as loud as you do by yourself. Even if you think you're yelling your loudest, they put the same people in a room by themselves and they'll yell louder, which is sort of strange. Another experiment that I really like, is they had kids pull on the tug of war. Tug of war rope. They did this with adults too. And when you're pulling on the rope by yourself, you'll exert more force than when you're pulling in a group. And, even if you're like these two kids and you think you're pulling your hardest. Some people will say that, well this is because coordination is hard. You have a big group of people and, and there's gonna be some loss of productivity 'cause you know lots of people working on something, which is true. That happens. But the yelling in a group is sort of a weird one. Even if you think you're yelling your hardest, maybe someone in the group is not yelling very loud. They're saving their voice, and so that brings the average down. But there's something more interesting afoot here and it actually boils down to our subconscious psychology as human beings. And my favorite example of this is when they studied brainstorming groups. So brainstorming is something that as creative people we do a lot. We're gonna dig into this in this class. But brainstorming is basically, you're trying to come up with ideas. And, so since I believe it was the 40's, they came up with this idea, this metaphor for storming the castle with all the people. But you're gonna instead, gonna storm the ideas. And, the theory has been that if you put enough people in a room together and tell them to storm the ideas, they will come up with better ideas. But, as it turns out, and I like this stock photo series, I call it "White Guy Leads Brainstorm Session." You Google brainstorming, this is what you get. Turns out that over and over again, scientists, business researchers find that when you put groups of people together to come up with ideas, to storm the castle of ideas, they will come up with fewer ideas, and fewer good ideas together than those same people will alone. Kind of like yelling at your own in the room, or pulling on the tug of war rope. And this has nothing to do with social loafing, or you know, lack of coordination, part of the idea with brainstorming is that you're supposed to say every idea is a good idea. So, why is it that a group of people will actually do a little worse creatively when they're together, than when they're alone? This is my favorite quote, second favorite quote on this. "Business people must be insane to use brainstorming exercises," says Adrian Furman, famous psychologist on the subject. My favorite quote, and I said this to my other CreativeLive class is, "As surely as cigarettes lead to cancer, brainstorming in groups leads to bad ideas, or not as good ideas." And, this is sort of depressing, right. This thing that we've been taught, it's, it's a wonderful idea. That humans can add up to more than the sum of their parts. That we can come up with better ideas together than alone, but it turns out this synergy thing is bunk. Except, for the Beatles. And, Star Wars. And, improve comedy. And, Nutella lattes, my favorite thing ever. It turns out that every great work of creativity and innovation ever made, actually was a magical combination of things that exceeded the sum of their parts. So there's a million amazing examples of when this does happen, and yet most of the time, regular people, even creative people when they come together, they don't do it. And so, if we're trying to be the kind of creative collaborators that everyone wants on the team, that we want to get the invite, we want to get the project coming to us, we need to figure out how to be the kind of collaborators that can lead to that outcome we all want. That's just so rare. So what I write about in Dream Teams, is this idea that when humans come together we either break down, or we break through. Big group of people will slow down, will eventually break down. People fight, we have different points of view. Or, a group of people will come together and somehow do something magical. So, what makes the difference? I'm gonna give a little bit of a primer before we get into, kind of, the, the weeds of becoming a creative contributor. I wanna do a little bit of a primer on this math of synergy and why it doesn't work out so often. So, you have a cake that you've baked for your eight best friends. And you're having a party. And, you want to cut this cake into eight equal slices. But for whatever reason, it's a magic party, I don't know. There's an enchanted knife that you're using. The only knife you have to, to cut this cake. And, and it's gonna disappear after you make three cuts. So, how do you cut this cake into eight equal slices, with three cuts? I see some wheels turning. And when I first encountered this problem, I couldn't figure it out. Someone had to tell me. But most people, when they try and cut the cake into eight equal slices, they cut it in half, cut it in half again, kind of like a pizza. And then, you realize that, you know, if you make two more cuts, then you'll have eight slices but that third cut, your knife disappears. This only makes six slices, two are too big. Two of your friends know that you love them more. Doesn't solve the problem. So, how do you solve this problem? How do you cut this cake into eight slices. And you can't do little squiggly lines, cause then some of your friends will know that you love them less. Any ideas? No big deal. I did not know the answer, but it turns out, that some people naturally just see the answer to this puzzle. And when you see it, it's sort of obvious. But it's not obvious until you see it. Cut the cake in half. Cut it in half again, and then you literally turn the problem on its, yeah, you got it, yep. Literally turn the problem on it's side. And cut it all the way through. Now some of these slices have less frosting, we'll just pretend there's frosting in the middle so everyone, everyone is equally loved. But, this, this puzzle, is sort of a silly puzzle, but it's a literal example of perspective. Of actually looking at a problem from a different point of view, a different angle. Perspectives are really powerful when it comes to creative work. And we'll talk a little bit more about that in a minute. But some people naturally just see the answer to this cake puzzle. Because of the perspective that they have. I like to say that the little kid who's looking at the cake from this level, will just say, "Why don't you just cut it all the way through?" Some perspectives just will naturally lead you to to solve a problem like this. And any problem that we encounter in life, anything that we're trying to tackle from a creative point of view, can have potentially natural solutions that some people just see and other people don't see. Now, how you set yourself up to see more of those, is part of the challenge we're gonna talk about. And perspectives are formed by all sorts of things. But essentially, the way that your brain processes information gets encoded into your own internal language. This is what perspective is. Perspective is, how you kind of catalog the world and then look at it when you're about to do something about it. The things that form your perspective have a lot to do with who you are. How you identify. Sometimes how you physically see the world. If you're color blind, then you might see the world very differently than someone else. There's all sorts of things. But how we grow up, where we grow up, what generation we grow up in, the way people look at us. Which is why race ends up being a very important factor for perspective. The way people look at you and treat you will change the way that you look at situations. Everything that you can think about in terms of visible diversity has to do with building a perspective over time. And, the longer that we're alive actually contributes to a perspective too. A kid will have less perspective, or a very different perspective. A more, sort of open and perhaps naive perspective on a lot of factors then someone who's lived a long time. And, things become really interesting when it comes to creative collaboration. So, second little puzzle. Talk about the second half of our mental toolkit. You're at this party again, and you have six glasses, three of which are full of milk. And, the challenge is, for whatever reason, we need to alternate these glasses so they go full, empty, full, empty, full, empty. And so, you can imagine you just move the glasses around and do that, but, for whatever reason, again, enchanted party, you can only touch one glass. You can only move one glass. So, how do you do that? Most people, the first thing they attempt to do, is what I attempted to do. Take this glass and you move it here. And it turns out, that leads to two glasses actually still next to each other. If you had one more move, you could do this. And then that would work. So, how do you solve this puzzle? Now, once again, some people naturally get this. Some people have a really hard time, scratch their heads for a while, and say, it's impossible. But, if I say, well now pretend that your day job is a chemist. You just got home form your chemistry job, and you have to attack this puzzle. Make these alternate full, empty, full, empty, full, empty. Suddenly, a lot more people have the solution to the problem. Anyone in the audience have a? You take the second full glass, and dump it into the -- Pour it into the second to last glass. Yep, exactly. So, you're still only touching one glass. And some people automatically get that. Some people, it just takes a little nudge of, oh, you're a chemist. And you realize a chemist's job is to pour things in and out of beakers. I don't know that that's exactly what a chemist does all day, but that's what we think about. When I was a kid, I would play chemist and that's what I would do. So, this is an example of an approach to solving a problem has something to do with perspective, but it's something a little bit different. It's called heuristics. Heuristics are our rules of thumb, or our initial strategies, or tactics to approach solving a problem. So, if you were given that milk puzzle and I said you have to use the heuristic of a forklift operator in order to solve this puzzle, which means you have to, the only thing you can do is lift something up and move it over, you're never gonna solve that puzzle. It's impossible. The way to solve the puzzle is by pouring. I didn't give that constraint, but there's often when we're working on problems in life, or we're trying to design something, we, we are often constrained by just the tactics that we know, or that we've learned. So heuristics are built by all sorts of things. Our perspectives often do lead us to develop heuristics. You've been treated a certain way, good or bad in certain kinds of situations your whole life, you will develop tactics. And heuristics for dealing with those kinds of situations. That might be different than other people. Also, if you're trained somewhere, that's different than another person, your training might lead you to approach problems a little bit differently. So, two people going to different schools, training in the same subject matter, might actually have different approaches that could be pretty interesting when combined. So, when we're talking about the math of getting better together. And more creative together. You know the sad truth, is that a group of people who are all pretty similar are only gonna be as smart and creative as the smartest, or most creative person, right. This is why, some companies that are known as being super creative, they often have this sort of heroic leader at the top. That everyone worships and lionizes, and says this person is a genius. And then when that leader's gone the company, or the group doesn't do quite as well creatively. Because it all kind of hinges on that smartest person. But, groups of people, and things can come together to become more. And, and this is my favorite analogy for the math of how that works. So, any problem you're working on, creative problem, or any sort of problem, maybe a broken down van in the middle of, of the desert of Idaho. Can be represented by a mountain range. So, this mountain range, I call it Problem Mountain. I actually got this analogy from a professor of complex systems called Dr. Scott Page, from University of Michigan. He is one of the pioneers in basically proving out the math of synergy. And, and I love this, this metaphor and this little cartoon. Basically every mountain peak represents a solution to whatever problem we're talking about. The higher the peak the better the solution. So, any problem that you have, can be solved usually by, in a few ways. And some of those ways are gonna be less quality than other ways. You know, think about any, any sort of problem you're working on. Say it's a creative project. Say, you're trying to photograph something. There's a lot of different ways that you can take the photograph, or you can achieve sort of, capture what you're trying to capture. And some of them will be awesome and some of them will not as awesome, basically. So, our challenge when we're working on any kind of creative project, is to hike around the mountain and figure out what's the best solution that we can get to. Sometimes, we just can't see all the solutions. Most of the time, we can't see every solution that's out there. It's like we're hiking around in the fog. And sometimes we don't know how to climb up that next mountain, we just can't do it. We don't have the, the heuristic or the skills to do it. But basically, your perspective is sort of where you get helicoptered in on this mountain, for whatever problem you're doing, you're trying to solve. So, this is me. I get dropped on this part of the mountain for whatever, we'll say it's the photography project just for kicks. I get dropped off here. And then, you're dropped off somewhere and you hike up hill. You sort of go towards the easiest solution. But then, once you get to a peak, that's when your heuristic comes in. I have to decide, where do I go now? Do I stay here, is this a solution or is there something better out there? And so, I can hike around more but I have no idea that this is all out there. So, my heuristic maybe that I learned in mountain climbing school in Idaho, is when you get to a peak, go over the other side and walk down 50 paces. And if after 50 paces, it keeps going down then you're probably found a pretty high mountain so you should go back. And if it goes up hill after, or before 50 paces, then go that way. See if it's higher. So I do this, and I end up halfway down this one and I say, nope. Still going downhill, I don't see anything in the fog and I retreat back up to my mountain peak. So, I found a decent solution to this problem. Now how teamwork usually works, is someone else on my team, similar perspective on this problem. We got the same brief when we went to, kind of, similar backgrounds. She gets dropped off here. But she has a different heuristic. We went to different mountain climbing schools, let's say. And so she climbs uphill, she gets to the top. But now her rule of thumb is you go over the over side of the mountain, and hike until you get to the trough between two mountains, and then you go up which ever way is steepest. You keep doing that until you find sort of what you think is the best solution. So she hikes past where I got to, and says, hey, I found a trough, and this way's steeper. So she ends up here. She does it again and then says, no this way's not as steep, this must be the best solution to the problem. So, she ended up finding a better solution than me, and if we're a good team then she'll say, hey Shane, I got a better idea. And then yeah, teamwork, here we are. So this is how most of the time teamwork works. You can see that we're only as smart or creative as the person who found the answer. Based on her mental toolkit. And, and this is great because, you know, the different things that we've experienced in life and who we are, led us to have a person who was best equipped to help us solve the problem. But little do we know, there's a better solution out there. And we're not gonna be smarter than the two of us. We're only gonna be smarter, as smart as she is. And this is how a lot of solutions to problems just sort of get embedded in our way of doing things. This is how best practices come about. So when someone finds a good solution to a problem, says this is it, this is what we're doing, this is how everyone should do it. And then everyone hikes up the mountain and stays here, and little do we know, we could do things better. There's a lot of problems in the world that have kind of landed like this. We have something that works, doesn't necessarily work the best, and low and behold, the world changes every once in a while there's an earthquake and a new mountain rises up and we don't get to it because we're entrenched in this certain way of thinking. This is that thing that kills so much creativity. People who are creative, who've found creative solutions to problems, who are really good at what they do, they kind of end up plateauing at a certain point. Because that success that lead them there, they, they are not able to reinvent it. So this is where creative collaboration comes in. And, and whether it's someone who's working on your team, or someone that you can bring into your own thinking process, your creative process. Someone with a different perspective. It's like someone who gets dropped off on the other side of the mountain range. Or, a different part. Now, some different perspectives will drop you off in weird places that aren't helpful. Someone with a different perspective that ends up being unexpectantly relevant to this problem. It's like somebody gets dropped off here, and whatever way they climb the mountain, they'll end up somewhere. And wherever that somewhere is, there's a chance that your heuristic over here, combined with their perspective, can actually lead you to a different mountain peak. So, if we tried her way of go down to the trough and then go up the steep way, if we try it from this guy's perspective you'll see, you can actually end up at the top. This little cartoon actually works out. But this is the math of how a group of people can become smarter, or more creative then their smartest or most creative person. And this is the potential we have when we work together that we don't usually unlock. And there's some reasons for that that we'll get into. But this called cognitive diversity. That what's inside of our heads, across these two dimensions the way that we encode and see things, and the way that we approach things. When we combine those in interesting ways, we set ourselves up for potential to become greater than the sum of our parts. So, when I say that it's a lie that two heads are better than one, that's actually a bit of a lie. Two heads are better than one, but only if those heads are different. Which most of the time when we're working on projects together, we gather up people who are like us. Who we share things in common because that is fun. And that makes us happy. And, we can communicate better when people are like us, and when we have similarities it makes the process easier. Whatever we're working on. But that actually it turns out, can get us stuck on the wrong mountain peaks where people with different heads who it's harder to communicate with, who it's harder to collaborate with, can actually be the teammates or the inputs that help us to get to the top. So, Steve Jobs said, "Creativity is just connecting things." This is sort or well-known science of basically, how creativity works. Inside our brains and in between people, I'm gonna go through this quote, it's kind of long, but, it says, When you ask creative people how they did something, sometimes they'll feel guilty because they just saw it. It's like, when you just saw that the answer to the milk puzzle was just to pour the thing and I didn't see that, I think that you're a creative genius but that's just obvious to you after a while. And a lot of creative things end up looking that way to a lot of people. He says, that's because those people were able to connect experiences they've had in the past to synthesize new things. And the reason they're able to do that is they've just had more experiences. So, this is my excuse for having that to-do list of things that have nothing to do with my work, is for one, it's fun, but if I have the challenge that at some point I want to be in a music video, the things that it takes for me to actually get there, and the things that I might learn by being in a music video might at some point actually help me connect some dots later in my creative life. And I think this gives me, and I think anyone who's watching this, the excuse and the, the justification for exploring things that maybe they're fun, or maybe they're just different. That are outside of your field, that you know, another common bit of advice that we get is stay in your lanes, stick to what you're good at, and deeply become expert in whatever you're doing. But, I don't know if I could throw out, who's the like most classic genius, the most genius person that, that you can think of in history? [Male Audience Member] Einstein. Einstein. Einstein played the violin. Einstein did a lot of things that were not physics. And, hmm, that's curious. Somehow those things didn't distract him from his work in physics. Maybe they actually helped him. He attributed that. I think he was also really into theater. And, and drama, and plays, and you can imagine the kinds of things that you learn from those stories. That can maybe help you draw analogies that help you solve really hard math equation, like E equals M-C squared. So, Steve Jobs continues and says, "Unfortunately that's too rare a commodity. A lot of people don't have very diverse experiences." A lot of us just sort of stick to the railroad tracks that we're given, the curriculum that we're given, we don't broaden our experiences and you know, experiences aren't just what we're studying, but they're who we're consulting, or talking to. Or, bringing into our circle, into our world. We don't expand our social circles in ways that actually help us to be diverse thinkers. And he says, "The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have." He's talking specifically about designing computers, and iPods, and things. But, when I talk about this problem mountain, and you know the people that we can combine, the perspectives and heuristics, in order to find better solutions to problems, that can take place in our own heads as well. Just like in Einstein's. That if we can gather up different heuristics, different perspectives into our own heads, borrow them from people that we've worked with, or that we know, or that we study, then we can traverse this mountain range a little bit better. And this sets us up to be the kind of creative collaborator that people really want to work with. So, one of my favorite examples of this in action is this guy named Lonnie Johnson. Lonnie Johnson is super cool. It's one of those characters in history that will probably make it into history books, but, but I think deserves more air time then he's gotten. Lonnie Johnson invented the world's best-selling gun. More guns of this kind that he, he invented the gun. Now hold on, that sounds horrible. But, let me tell you this story. So, Lonnie Johnson, grew up in the south, in Alabama. He grew up in a time when because of his race he was not allowed to check out library books. Which is horrible that like someone who's alive today, could have had that sort of thing happen, right. I don't know exactly who denied him the library books, but the long story short, is he studied, he wanted to be a scientist. And, he was super cool. The son of a poor handyman, worked his way up to becoming the first black scientist in NASA's jet propulsion lab. He was running the lab, super cool, studying, and helping basically put spaceships into space. And, and this guy Lonnie, he was working in the jet propulsion lab, and, and you know, just obsessing with, with these mechanics of, of fluids and, and fluids through space and propulsion. He was at home one day fixing the toilet in the bathroom, and you know, one of his kids broke the toilet, or something. So he's fixing the toilet and, and something goes wrong and the hose, the pressurized hose leading into the toilet sprays water all the way across the room. And, I can tell you guys are nervous about this inventing the gun thing. Sprays water across the room, and he gets this idea, you know, cause he has, he has a, a young daughter, it's like an elementary schooler. And, and he's always playing with her and tinkering and kind of like, you know, teaching her science and engineering and stuff. And he gets this idea that, you know, this jet propulsion work he's working on, and this broken toilet thing, could lead him to a, to actually make a toy that could help her destroy her friends on the playground. This toy ended up being the SuperSoaker. Which went on to become the world's best-selling gun, which warms my heart immensely. It's the kind of gun that I can actually get down with. So, he invents the SuperSoaker because of this, by applying his physics from NASA stuff. Those heuristics to kids toys. And then combine this with all sorts of, you know, collaboration that you need to invent this sort of thing. Whoever figured out how to do injection molding for plastic and all this stuff. And the toy design company that he went to. And he actually had his daughter beta test, you know, the early version of this. Soaking her friends in the school yard. And, and through that process of collaboration invented the SuperSoaker, sold a billion of them, became a very wealthy man. He now works on some insane projects with like, batteries and stuff that, you should look up his bio actually. Works on some really cool stuff that all stems from this idea of applying heuristics from one field to another field. And this is how we, we change the world. But this is where creativity comes from.

Class Description

Putting together a winning team is always a challenge, but the process is even tougher when you throw creativity and innovation into the mix. Collaboration can be the enemy of creativity, preventing the kind of risk-taking needed for truly transformative ideas to emerge.

World-renowned speaker, author and entrepreneur Shane Snow tackles this dilemma by addressing the uncomfortable truths of creative collaboration, showing how we can flip them to our advantage to become in-demand and indispensable, no matter our craft or how much creative room we have to grow.

Shane will explore the human behavior and team dynamics that can help you make any team more creative. He’ll teach you the art and science of lateral thinking—problem solving that takes an indirect and creative approach—so you can push your collaborations to the next level. And he’ll help you build the counter-intuitive skills that will make you more essential and in-demand as a creative partner.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Understand the frustrating paradox of breakthrough creativity.
  • Promote creative friction in order to spark and harness ultra-productive creative conflict.
  • Brainstorm productively and successfully.
  • Trick your enemies into helping you make your work and ideas better.
  • Develop curiosity in others so your big ideas get considered by those with the power and purse strings.
  • Discover ways to innovate and create in a team environment
  • Develop intellectual humility so you can become more open-minded and make creative breakthroughs with others.