There Really Is No Collective Brain
One of the key principles of Ayn Rand’s philosophy is that reason is an attribute of the individual: there is no collective brain. When I first heard this, oh those many years ago, my first thought was: What about group brainstorming sessions? Don’t the best ideas typically come from getting smart people in a room to toss around ideas?
Philosophically, the answer is that group brainstorming does not consist of collective thought–it is the sum of the individual thought of all its participants. Someone can say something that leads to someone else coming up with an idea he might otherwise have missed, but both of them had to exert his own individual mental effort. Bottom line, the value of group bull sessions is perfectly consistent with individualism.
That said, I found this report both surprising and amusing. It turns out “the best size of a brainstorm group is: one.”
The results were unambiguous. The men in twenty-three of the twenty-four groups produced more ideas when they worked on their own than when they worked as a group. They also produced ideas of equal or higher quality when working individually. And the advertising executives were no better at group work than the presumably introverted research scientists. Since then, some forty years of research has reached the same startling conclusion. Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases: groups of nine generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to groups of six, which do worse than groups of four. The“evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” writes the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”