“Without great solitude no serious work is possible.” ~ Pablo Picasso
When the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist studied the lives of the most creative people in a wide variety of fields, they discovered that most of them were sufficiently introverted to spend large amounts of time alone. Introverts feel more comfortable in solitude, and that is a great stimulus for creativity.
However, as Susan Cain — author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and the NY Times article The Rise of the New Groupthink — says, 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.
More than 30 years ago Tom DeMarco, the Head of a consulting team, and his colleague Timothy Lister, devised a study called Coding War Games that sought to discover the traits that differentiate the best computer programmers from the worst .
More than 600 developers contributed from 92 different companies. Each of them had to design, code and test a program, from their working space, and in their usual working hours. Each participant had a partner who worked at the same company, but they worked apart from each other, without any communication.
The results revealed huge differences in performance. The best programmers were 10 times better than the worst ones, and 2.5 times better than the average. The funny thing was that the factors that anyone would think could make a difference, such as years of experience, salary, or time spent completing the job, had little relevance in the result.
Coders with 10 years of experience didn’t do better than than those with only two years of experience. The half that performed above the average earned less than 10% more than the lower half, while the results were better by 250%. The coders who delivered a flawless program needed even less time to complete it than the others.
The key of the experiment was that the programmers of the same companies obtained results of, more or less, the same level, although they had not worked together. Then they realized that the best results came from companies that provided their employees a more private personal space, control over their physical environment and lack of interruption.
Although this study was about programmers, there have subsequently appeared countless studies and articles that claim that open offices reduce productivity and impair memory.
People who work in open spaces are more likely to suffer from stress and high blood pressure. They get sick more often and feel more aggressive, discouraged and insecure. In addition, excessive stimulation hampers learning.
Further studies have shown that the simple act of being interrupted is one of the biggest barriers to productivity. Multitasking is a myth. Scientists now know that the brain is incapable of paying attention to two things at once. Changing from one task to another significantly reduces productivity.
Are you more productive working alone?
Originally published at facilethings.com.