GroupThink, Obama’s Presidency – New Yorker Digest

Jan. 30, 2012

Jan. 30, 2012Just

Just finished reading the latest issue of New Yorker. Really enjoyed two articles in particular.

1. Groupthink by – The brainstorming myth

First half of the article explained why brainstorming (w/o criticism) doesn’t work, but brainstorming with debate does.

Even when alternative views are clearly wrong, being exposed to them still expands our creative potential.  In a way, the power of dissent is the power of surprise.  After hearing someone shout out an errant answer, we work to understand it, which causes us to reassess our initial assumptions and try out new perspectives.  “Authentic dissent can be difficult, but it’s always invigorating,” Nemeth says. “It wakes us right up.”

The 2nd half is about how buildings make a group more creative. Examples including Pixar building designed by Jobs, and Building 20 of MIT.

The lesson of Building 20 is that when the composition of the group is right — 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 conersations 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.

2. The Obama Memos by Ryan Lizza, The making of a post-post-partisan Presidency.

Obama was learning the same lesson of many previous occupants of the Oval Office: he didn’t have the power that one might think he had. Harry Truman, one in a long line of Commanders-in-Chief frustrated by the limits of the office, once complained that the President “has to take all sorts of abuse from liars and demagogues. . . . The people can never understand why the President does not use his supposedly great power to make ’em behave. Well, all the President is, is a glorified public relations man who spends his time flattering, kissing and kicking people to get them to do what they are supposed to do anyway.

Obama didn’t remake Washington. But his first two years stand as one of the most successful legislative periods in modern history. Among other achievements, he has saved the economy from depression, passed universal health care, and reformed Wall Street. Along the way, Obama may have changed his mind about his 2008 critique of Hillary Clinton. “Working the system, not changing it” and being “consumed with beating” Republicans “rather than unifying the country and building consensus to get things done” do not seem like such bad strategies for success after all.