Toward assembling a committee, Part 1

yecchYou want to see a professor wince? Randomly insert the word “committee” into a conversation. Just try it.

Truth is, most of us have a love-hate relationship with committees. Collaborations with colleagues are essential, and in your research, you will find that many of the most interesting questions can only be addressed when you bring people on board. But how do you put together committees toward generating something creative? Specifically, how many people do you assign to a task?

What you’re up against: An observation in the form of a stupid joke.
“What do faculty meetings and spackle have in common?”. Answer: They are amazingly efficient fillers. Put a bunch of faculty around a table for an hour, throw out any topic sentence, and wait. Someone will comment. Then someone will expand on that comment. Then someone will qualify it. Then someone will tell a lame joke who’s real intent is to slam the second commenter. Pretty soon, hours up!

A general principle: Creativity is a two-part process.
Its about generating a lot of ideas and then culling that list down to the good ones.

An insight: The Dumbness of Crowds arises from a creativity imbalance
Kathy Sierra gives plenty of examples as to how, if you are putting together a group of people to creatively solve a problem, more ain’t necessarily better. Why? I suspect its partly due to the Creativity Principle. We want to get lots of input, lots of ideas. But the process of recognizing the best ideas is hampered by the very group size that generated them in the first place. In part, we want to be nice: there are no “bad ideas”, everyone can contribute, that sort of thing. But as Sierra points out,

Art isn’t made by committee.

Great design isn’t made by consensus.

True wisdom isn’t captured from a crowd.

We leave this topic for now with an excellent example of design by committee, with a bit of a swipe at Microsoft (which is always fun).  In the meantime, any good committee horror stories?

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One Response to Toward assembling a committee, Part 1

  1. Torchwolf says:

    Yes the word “committee” makes me wince. 🙂

    But interestingly words like “team”, “group”, “brainstorm”, or “workshop” don’t.

    If you said to me “Do you want to be on a committed about X?”, my gut reaction would be “No thanks!” But if you said, “I’m getting together a group to brainstorm on X…”, I ‘d already be leaning towards “Sure, count me in!”

    When I think committee, I don’t just think “group of people meeting together”, I also associate it with bureacracy, futility, tedium, and worse.

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