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This is my personal blog which I began in February 2001. I called it The Obvious? when I wrote anonymously and chose the name to reflect the fact I have to overcome my inhibitions about stating the obvious!

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Andrew McAfee has an interesting post about The Surprising Benefits Of Solitude in HBR. In it he questions some of the assumptions of collaborative working in "the real" world that tend to be taken for granted. He also suggests that people working together online can avoid some of the dysfunction and group think that sharing the same space can lead to. I recently wrote an article for a corporate real estate newsletter about the changing needs for space that we can expect to see over the next few years. In it I suggest that people will become increasingly aware of where they work better and for which activities. Some will be better at working in the same space and some will be better done online. It will be the transitions that will be interesting.

Spookily, shortly before I read Andrew's article, I ordered Solitude from Amazon. Its description includes: "In a series of biographical sketches it demonstrates how many of the creative geniuses of our civilization have been solitary, by temperament or circumstance, and how the capacity to be alone is, even for those who are not creative, a sign of maturity."

What do you reckon. Is our need to work together in the same space over rated?

Reader Comments (10)

Surely the answer is "it depends" - on what you are working on, at what stage of the process you are at, and on individual thinking styles?

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulian Elve

Yes and that was what I said in the article. We are getting better at taking responsibility for those sort of decisions and more willing to influence our employers to allow us to carry them through. I reckon it will also affect workplace design. There's a reason a lot of my meetings with clients happen in local coffee houses rather than their corporate offices.

January 24, 2012 | Registered CommenterEuan

When I used to have a "real job" I would have to leave the office to do any work that involved original thought. There were too many interruptions.

John Cleese has a great YouTub Video on creativity where he speaks of the need to create a safe place where you cannot be interrupted to access that inner part of you that can see the new or unusual.

On the other hand, I so enjoy going to the Commons and being with other people - but that is where we are using group conversation - what Cleese talks about is the "Inner" conversation that once interrupted often cannot be regained

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRob Paterson

Hey Euan - Just read an interesting point // counter-point from Keith Sawyer in response to a NY Times article on solitude vs collaboration


The thought that crosses my mind is connected to research in learning and the tendency we have as learning designers to 'fill the space' with things to do - leaving little to no room for reflection. Some alone time is a good thing from a learning standpoint, but I don't think collaboration is over-rated. It may be that it's just assumed or poorly applied.

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Mahaley

Really interesting push back Steve - thanks for the link. Guess it re-enforces Julian's point - "it depends".

January 24, 2012 | Registered CommenterEuan

Here is the NYT article http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html?_r=4&pagewanted=all

January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRob Paterson

Interesting. I agree that "it depends" on the person and the profession. Many people need extended periods of solitude to do their serious thinking. I believe it's just not possible to engage in detailed analysis in groups (analysis being a completely different thing to brain-storming). But then most of us also need time to collaborate with others.

I can see how digital groups could be useful in helping those who require solitude avoid some of the pitfalls of groups. Then again, there are times when I like to see people in the flesh when discussing something important. The importance of body language and visual cues is sometimes underestimated.

January 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSheeple Liberator

Seredipidity Euan ... on about the same day I created a little card titled 'Solitude' and wrote this post - http://www.yesandspace.com.au/?p=2072

Here's the text I wrote on the card ...

"As we embrace what emerges in a group, there are times (some) people need just to themselves. This solitary, down-time is an opportunity simply to be alone with one's thoughts."

Looking forward to working together again later this year ... I am scheming something and will be in touch soon.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGeoff Brown

Spooky! And keep scheming!

February 15, 2012 | Registered CommenterEuan

There are many things we do as knowledge workers. A few of them listed below:

Share, Create, Develop, Improve, Innovate, Integrate - for these I believe we are better together

Analyze - individual sport, however we can benefit by reviewing other peoples anayses
Organize - this is challenging. If you can get concensus on the perspective used to organize, it can be better together. Otherwise, thats why they make Chocolate and Vanilla.
Reflect - better in solitude, however coming together to share reflections is eye opening.

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterT.J. Theodore

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