How to put together a creative team

The best teams are those which include both old hands, used to working together, and new members. 

Often, the challenges faced by a company on a daily basis cannot be tackled by just one person – they require the efforts of an entire team. Ben Jones, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management in the US, analyzed 19.9 million scientific articles and 2.1 million patents to study the added value of groups compared with individuals. He found that scientific research produced by more than one author was cited twice as often as that produced by a single person – and up to six times more if the articles had fewer than 1,000 citations. 

Harnessing diversity

Generating ideas requires teamwork. In no event should it be confined to the “creative” people within a company. But remember, setting up a team is pointless unless care is taken selecting its members. To bring out creative ideas, it is worth harnessing diversity and bringing in external members, even children and older individuals. The members of a diversified team meet the following criteria:

  • They come from different departments within the company
  • They are of different ages
  • They have different areas of expertise
  • They represent different hierarchical levels
  • Their career paths are different
  • They come from different cultural backgrounds

Including old hands and new members

However, this is not always easy. Brian Uzzi, a sociologist at Northwestern University, tried to decode this by looking at Broadway musicals. He studied the composition of the creative teams behind each production put on between 1877 and 1990. He focused in particular on the density of connections between individuals: had they known each other beforehand or had they never worked together? He then correlated this data with the musicals' commercial success.

Brian Uzzi realized that when creatives had no previous connection, they had difficulty communicating and exchanging ideas. This meant that their productions were not very successful. More surprising, teams made up of performers who were very close did not manage to produce successful shows either, because they tended to think the same way and this killed innovation. The best teams were those made up of some old friends, but also some new members.

When West Side Story came to the stage in 1957, it revolutionized the genre by tackling social issues which were usually ignored (poverty and immigration) and including long dance scenes. It was a huge box-office hit. The team behind the production included some legends who had already worked together many times (Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents), but also new talents such as Stephen Sondheim, a 25-year old lyricist who had never worked on Broadway.

Sources: Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Business Model Generation, Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, Pearson.

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Citations about creativity

“Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”
Anton Ego, in the animated film Ratatouille, produced by Pixar Animation Studios

Last modification 06.08.2018

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