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On Working Alone

I came across this article this morning:

“The Rise of the New Groupthink” by Susan Cain via the New York Times

It made me really think about the way I prefer to work, and I do relate to the need to be alone to be more productive. Throughout art school, there was an emphasis (which I also encouraged) on collaborating and brainstorming and working in open group spaces. But looking back, I find myself seeing that I was the most productive when I was on my own, but was supported well by converging with groups at various opportune times.

I wrote more, I thought more, and I wasn’t distracted by other bits and pieces floating around my immediate surroundings. And to be honest, I was prouder of the work that came out of those moments, as I wasn’t engaged in premature self-editing and the dangerous spiral of never-ending “what if?” sessions. My voice felt more clear, more sensible, and not distracted and garbled by other noise. Even when working to come up with ideas on campaigns and some strategy work, I found myself offering better suggestions when I’ve had time to sit on my own and look up cats and Gilmore Girls.

I’m really into Gilmore Girls again right now, FYI. I mention this because I’ve always wanted something like Richard Gilmore’s study, where I could be completely immersed in my own shit.

Okay, he looks super sad here, but man, check out that room. It’s totally a man-cave for the rich, white illuminati—but my own desires to become one of these gentlemen is beside the point.

“Studies show that open-plan offices make workers hostile, insecure and distracted. They’re also more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, stress, the flu and exhaustion. And people whose work is interrupted make 50 percent more mistakes and take twice as long to finish it.”

Maybe it’s a weird fear I have of looking like that kid in class who sang to herself and ate paste, but it was always a thing for me to be extroverted and team-oriented.

I guess I always felt a little strange about preferring to be by myself a lot of the time. I’m a bit of an introvert, and maybe some people get thrown off by my candidness and asshole-ishness. But I really love being alone sometimes, especially when I work. I like getting lost in my own shit and then coming out the other side.

What works well for me is the idea of leaving me the hell alone and then letting me check in after a set amount of time. When I worked with Free Agency, it was really important (and helpful) when Tak would say, “Okay, try and do this for about an hour. See where you get and then we can go over it together.” It was a nuanced part of the process, but that invitation or agreement to come out of my shell instead of just barging in after an hour made a huge difference in what I would present or discover.

What that also suggests to me is an inherent trust in my capabilities, as well as what I can accomplish in a set amount of time. Perhaps it is a subconscious thing that I may be over-thinking, but trust has become a rather important value for me to feel in the last little while. The less I felt people trusted me, the more self-conscious I became, and unfortunately, my work reflected this nervous tension. It’s a terrible cycle.

Of course, there are different things being said, and I’m definitely the farthest thing from the next Newton or the next Wozniak, but Cain makes interesting points here, about the work process and where & when collaboration and constant contact cease to be healthy. I never really thought about it before I read this. It feels a little refreshing to chew on this nugget for a little while.

Especially this:

“The ‘evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,’ wrote 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.'”


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