Want a Creative, Successful Team? Optimize For Q

In 2005, Brian Uzzi of Northwestern University, and Jarrett Spiro of Stanford published a study titled “Collaboration and Creativity: The Small World Problem” in the American Journal of Sociology which analyzed the relative critical and financial success of 474 Broadway musicals. What they revealed was that the productions that were considered successful tended to have been developed in a network where there was an optimal mix of long-time collaborators along with a non-trivial number of “new blood” participants.

The conclusion reached was that insular creative communities consisting exclusively of familiar members (a high “Q” group) were relatively inhibited by groupthink — “high cohesiveness can lead to the sharing of common rather than novel information.” Conversely, networks made up of strangers (low “Q” groups) will not mesh and work together as successfully.

This may be why so many claim to be energized to do creative work at our annual Sun Valley event. My impression is that our mix of regulars and newbies hits the sweet spot Uzzi and Spiro describe: “These teams had some old friends, but they also had newbies. This mixture meant that the artists could interact efficiently— they had a familiar structure to fall back on— but they also managed to incorporate some new ideas. They were comfortable with each other, but they weren’t too comfortable.”