Creativity and the Ideal Mix of Collaborators

‘WHEN THE RIGHT MIXTURE OF PEOPLE COME TOGETHER AND THEY COLLABORATE IN THE RIGHT WAY, WHAT HAPPENS CAN OFTEN FEEL LIKE MAGIC.’

Is there a science to putting together the right mixture of people? Could it be that putting together a successful and creative ensemble can be distilled into a quotient? Many of the creative challenges an individual or group may experience require the perpesctive of people from different backgrounds who bridge the gap between disciplines. In an ensemble this may mean bringing together people with different types of strengths or backgrounds.

Brian Uzzi, a sociologist from Northwestern, spent much of his career analyzing the success of Broadway musicals over a number of years.  One reason is that a Broadway musical cannot possibly be built on just one person.  The production brings together many types of talent. Composer, lyricist, choreographer, director and so forth.

heifetz_piatigorsky_pennario_primrose_650

Heifetz, Primrose, Piatigorsky and Pennario

After studying 2,258 teams between 1877-1990 the first thing Uzzi discovered was that the people who worked on Broadway were part of an extremely interconnected social network. He found a way to measure the density of these connections and referred to it as Q. Basically the amount of Q reflected the amount of social intimacy of people working on the shows.  For instance a Broadway musical with collaborators that worked together many times before, which is typical of Broadway shows that are often built with teams, they had a high Q. In contrast Broadway shows with a team of strangers had a very low Q. This metric enabled him to study the correlation between Q level and success of the show.

He found that when the Q was low as might be expected, the shows were usually unsuccessful, as the collaborators were so unfamiliar with working together and exchanging ideas.  However when the Q was too high, the work also suffered. The artists were so close they all thought alike which inhibited theatrical creativity. ‘All the great talent ended up producing mediocre musicals.’

What then was the ideal Q?  It was with the groups that had an intermediate amount of social intimacy. Such groups were 2 ½ times more likely to be successful. These teams had old friends but they include new ones. There was a ‘sweet spot’. This meant the artists could interact effectively because there was a certain amount of familiarity, but they also incorporated new ideas. In other words they were comfortable with each other, but not too comfortable.

Rozanna Weinberger

2/20/14

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