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Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration Hardcover – June 5, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Forget about the myth of the solitary genius: collaborative effort generates ideas and inventions, says this useful, upbeat book about how innovation always emerges from a series of sparks—never a single flash of insight. Judiciously wielding exercises and dozens of examples, Sawyer (Explaining Creativity) helps the reader understand how people think and function in and out of groups. He looks at how J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis composed their epic novels in concert, how unorganized individuals can come together to provide disaster relief more efficiently than government planners, how Charles Darwin and Samuel Morse built their work on others' discoveries, how information sharing helped Silicon Valley beat out Boston's computer startups. (Sawyer's riffs on jazz ensembles and improv comedy as sites of ingenuity are less convincing.) Basing much of his work on that of mentor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi—who writes about reaching the state of heightened consciousness he calls flow—Sawyer offers guidelines for creating group flow. Insisting that collaborative webs are more important than creative people, he calls for an organizational culture that fosters equivocality, improvised innovation, and constant conversation—that's a recipe for group genius. Even if few readers are in a position to do away with their organizational chart, this is a solid recipe for unexpected innovation. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Keith Sawyer is an associate professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of the textbook Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, has designed video games for Atari, and lectures frequently to both academic and business audiences. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (June 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465071929
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465071920
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #616,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Keith Sawyer is one of the world's leading scientific experts on creativity, innovation, and learning. In his first job after graduating from MIT, he designed videogames for Atari. He then worked for 6 years as a management consultant in Boston and New York, advising large corporations on the strategic use of information technology. He's been a jazz pianist for over 30 years, and performed with several improv theater groups in Chicago, as part of his research into jazz and improvisational theater.

In addition to ZIG ZAG, his books include GROUP GENIUS and EXPLAINING CREATIVITY, and he has published over 80 scientific articles.

Dr. Sawyer is the Morgan Distinguished Professor in Educational Innovations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 54 people found the following review helpful By K. Sampanthar on June 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Summary:
There have been a few books recently that have challenged the commonly held beliefs and myths of innovation. Keith Sawyer; professor of psychology at Washington University in St Louis; tackles probably the most prevalent innovation myth, the lone genius. He has written a fascinating book on the power of collaboration and how it is the secret to breakthrough creativity. This book joins a small group of my favorite books on innovation; How Breakthroughs Happen, Medici Effect, The Act of Creation and The Art of Innovation. Sawyer has written a very practical book that is based on some solid scientific research.

The Audience:
I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested innovation and wants a practical framework for infusing an innovative culture throughout their company. The book is definitely aimed at a general business audience but provides enough depth into the background research to make the practical advice more meaningful. It is a very fine line Sawyer has walked with the creation of this book and I applaud him on a job well done. This is by no means a simple `how to' book, it is far more. Great writing, great ideas and if you act upon it you will get great results!!

The Details:
Sawyer has spent the last 15 years researching and studying creativity, he worked with Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi on the research behind `Flow - the science of optimal experience'. He approached his research into creativity with a similar scientific approach using indirect and direct techniques to understand the brain in action. He focused on a subject close to his heart, Jazz. Sawyer has been playing Jazz since his college days and he realized that there was some real creativity at work in jazz performances.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Mary Wendell on January 16, 2014
Format: Paperback
Many of the world's greatest innovations are tied to the names of famous people - like Mozart, Einstein, JRR Tolkien, and Steve Jobs. They're the geniuses, right? What is often overlooked is the community that nurtured the individuals and provided the conversation and collaboration necessary to develop their ideas. As you may have guessed, this book explores the genius of groups. Author Keith Sawyer believes that it is collaborative process, not simply the Aha! moment that holds the key to true creativity and innovation.

In Group Genius, Sawyer explores how collaboration sparks the trail of ideas that eventually lead to innovation. He shares his passion for jazz and improvisational theatre as examples of how people build off each other and create products that are better than could ever been done alone. I've experienced this and it's beautiful. What I found exceptionally interesting was how authors like JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis depended on the culture fostered by their university to create their masterpieces. Not much a writer, I had previously thought of that realm of expression as very solitary.

I think many people would find this book fascinating. People who are interested in creativity may really benefit from the practical framework he offers to infuse an innovative culture throughout their company. On the basis of his extensive research since the 1990s, Sawyer has identified seven key characteristics of effective teams (I bet he got some of his information from the classic The Practice of Creativity: A Manual for Dynamic Group Problem-Solving).

I'd love to see people work more collaboratively, but it won't be easy. There needs to be a big paradigm shift, which if this book reaches the masses, would make for a better future!
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Format: Hardcover
I have had a lifelong interest in etymology. Curious to know the origin of "genius," I checked several sources and here is what I learned. The Latin word "genius" originally meant "deity of generation and birth" and as its meaning evolved over time via various languages, it was used to describe "a person of outstanding intellectual ability." We do indeed view those of superior intellect (e.g. Plato and Aristotle, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein) as secular equivalents of religious deities and certainly admire their mental capabilities. We also tend to toss the word "genius" around somewhat carelessly when referring to entertainers, athletes, and business executives. That said, the fact remains that throughout human history, what Keith Sawyer characterizes as "collaborative genius" has made significant contributions in ways and to an extent few (if any) individuals have. In fact, the more I think about all this, the more I appreciate the meaning and significance of Bernard of Chartres' observation (incorrectly attributed to Isaac Newton) that "We are like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants."

Here is a brief excerpt which correctly indicates one of Keith Sawyer's core concepts: "In both an improv group and a successful work team, the members play off one another, each person's contributions providing the spark for the next. Together, the improvisational team creates a novel emergent product, one that's more responsive to the changing environment and [key point] better than what anyone could have developed alone. Improvisational teams are the building blocks of innovative organizations, and organizations that can successfully build improvisational teams will be more likely to innovate effectively.
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