Lehrer - Groupthink - The New Yorker.pdf

It looked like it was going to fall apart but it was

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environment,” Chomsky says. “It looked like it was going to fall apart. But it was extremely interactive.” He went on, “There was a mixture of people who later became separate departments interacting informally all the time. You would walk down the corridor and meet people and have a discussion.” Building 20 and brainstorming came into being at almost exactly the same time. In the sixty years since then, if the studies are right, brainstorming has achieved nothing—or, at least, less than would have been achieved by six decades’ worth of brainstormers working quietly on their own. Building 20, though, ranks as one of the most creative environments of all time, a space with an almost uncanny ability to extract the best from people. Among M.I.T. people, it was referred to as “the magical incubator.” The fatal misconception behind brainstorming is that there is a particular script we should all follow in group interactions. The lesson of Building 20 is that when the composition of the group is right—
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enough people with different perspectives running into one another in unpredictable ways—the group dynamic will take care of itself. All these errant discussions add up. In fact, they may even be the most essential part of the creative process. Although such conversations will occasionally be unpleasant—not everyone is always in the mood for small talk or criticism—that doesn’t mean that they can be avoided. The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together. It is the human friction that makes the sparks. * ( ) Editor’s Note: Noam Chomsky’s comments about M.I.T.’s Building 20 were not made directly to Jonah Lehrer, nor was a colleague’s description of Chomsky’s and Morris Halle’s offices as “the two most miserable holes in the whole place.” Chomsky and his colleague were interviewed by Peter Dizikes for his article in the November/December issue of Technology Review . JONAH LEHRER
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  • Fall '13
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