Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Susan Cain on “the New Groupthink”

Susan Cain is skeptical about too much togetherness:

Solitude is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.

The Rise of the New Groupthink (New York Times)
I’m reminded of an observation from Richard Mitchell in The Graves of Academe (1981):
The acts that are at once the means and ends of education, knowing, thinking, understanding, judging, are all committed in solitude. It is only in a mind that the work of the mind can be done.
[Introverts of the world, separate!]

comments: 4

Sean said...

I'm reminded of Glenn Gould's thoughts about solitude—a major theme found in his extra-musical writing and in his radio documentaries (e.g. The Solitude Trilogy). His notions were a bit more extreme than Cain's, and though they may have been in part a rationalization for his quasi-hermetic lifestyle, it's another interesting example of his forward thinking.

One small sample:

"I don't know what the effective ratio would be, but I've always had some sort of intuition that for every hour you spend in the company of other human beings, you need "x" number of hours alone. Now, what "x" represents I don't really know; it might be two and seven-eighths or seven and two-eighths, but it is a substantial ratio."

Michael Leddy said...

Great quotation. Could his thinking about a ratio reflect the organizing by ratios in the late Goldbergs? (Something, by the way, I don’t claim to understand.)

Sean said...

I think the ideas of "ratio" and "proportion" were more likely just a part of his general nature, and it's no small coincidence that they were also characteristics of the Baroque ideal.

The Goldberg Variations, on their own, have significant unifying features both within and between each variation. For example, every third variation is a canon, and dividing each canonic variation's number by three will give you the interval of imitation: Variation 3 is a canon at the unison; Variation 6 is a canon at the 2nd; Variation 9 is a canon at the 3rd, etc. To add another layer of order, Gould conceived a kind of basic, fundamental pulse for the entire work, from which each individual tempo is derived. To him, this imbued a sense of ratio and proportion across the entire work, even if the relationships aren't immediately apparent on the surface. You could think of it in more modern terms as "metric modulation" (also "tempo modulation"), but in this case there is also a governing, all-pulsing "Ur-tempo" down below.

Gould discusses his approach in this "interview" with Tim Page, starting around 4:40

That's not to say he didn't overdo ratio and proportion in other aspects of his life, such as days when he monitored his blood pressure every 15 minutes, or made lists of daily temperature changes in cities across Canada...

Such wonderful gifts, but so dearly bought!

Michael Leddy said...

Yes, very dearly bought.

That “interview” is included in A State of Wonder, which must be one of the greatest bargains in all music — both Goldberg recordings and 1955 outtakes.

Have you read Tim Page’s memoir Parallel Play? I remember liking his New Yorker piece about his Asperger’s. I’ve had the book sitting around for several months (from one last trip to Borders).