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."
Make no mistake about it: although there can be indeed great creative power of collaboration, the process is necessarily messy, frustrating, at times perhaps discouraging. However, on the basis of his extensive research since the 1990s, Sawyer has identified seven key characteristics of effective creative teams: Innovation emerges over time, successful collaborative teams practice "deep listening," team members build on their collaborators' ideas, only over a period of time do the meaning and significance of each idea become clear, meanwhile "surprising" (i.e. unforeseen) ideas emerge, innovation is inefficient (trial and error, frequent false starts and detours, "dry wells," etc.), and innovation emerges "from the bottom up."
Sawyer carefully organizes his material within three Parts: The Collaborative Team (Chapters 1-4), The Collaborative Mind (Chapters 5-7), and The Collaborative Organization (Chapters 8-11). One of Sawyer's most valuable insights, examined with both rigor and eloquence, is that people who are steadfastly convinced that they are not "creative" can nonetheless work effectively together to generate (albeit eventually) profoundly innovative ideas. There are some "ifs," of course. First, senior managers must provide full support (including sufficient resources, especially time) of a collaborative team. Next, they must be patient rather than committing the common mistake of "ripping out a seedling to see how well it's growing." Also, they must understand - really understand - the meaning and especially the implications of the aforementioned seven key characteristics of effective creative teams. Finally, they must recognize that each "failure" (however defined) is a unique learning opportunity for them as well as for team members.
Credit Keith Sawyer with a brilliant achievement, especially at a time when the need for innovative thinking and creative collaboration is greater now than ever before.
Those who share my high regard for this volume are urged to check out Howard Gardner's studies of multiple intelligences, notably Creating Minds (i.e. those of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi) and his more recently published Five Minds for the Future. Also Andrew Hargadon's How Breakthroughs Happen, Michael Ray and Rochelle's Myers' Creativity in Business, Frans Johansson's The Medici Effect, Henry Chesbrough's Open Innovation and Open Business Models, Michael Michalko's Cracking Creativity, Richard Ogle's Smart World, and X-teams co-authored by Deborah Ancona and Henrik Bresman.