Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Creativity Myth #5: Competition Beats Collaboration

In 2004 Fast Company published Harvard researcher Teresa Amabile's Six Myths to Creativity.  The fifth myth on the list was Competition Beats Collaboration.  It seems some companies supported the notion that promoting competition between work groups in a company led to higher levels of creativity and innovation.  Amabile's research found that creativity actually declined in those work groups because the competition robbed the groups of their most important creativity asset:  sharing.

Unique, innovative ideas often do not come from one person.  According to Steven Johnson, it is the collision of ideas that leads to the most innovative developments.  This year I am building more problem solving into the curriculum so that the students experience working together on challenging, open-ended challenges.  The world I am preparing these students for is going to require the best of what they have to offer and sometimes their best only shines through when amplified by the talents of others.

So a skill I want them to focus on is the ability to collaborate, to put the needs of the group before the needs of the self, and work to find the most innovative and futuristic solutions to complex problems.  I started today with an activity from a helpful book, Teambuilding Puzzles, that I have used often in creative problem solving professional development.

The activity is called Handcuffs and Shackles.  It requires teams of two students to work closely together, to collaborate.  Here is the lesson:

Partners stand facing each other.  One person places the rope handcuffs over both of their wrists.  The second person places one hand into their handcuff, and before placing their other hand into the wrist loop, they pass the middle of their rope through the other person's rope.  The two are now connected together.

The challenge is for both partners to become separated from each other, without untying the knots, and without pulling their hands out of their own rope loops.  Additional restrictions can include without cutting the ropes, rubbing them back and forth until they catch fire or wear through, and of course, without biting through them.  The challenge is completed when everyone in the group is free.

Supplies:  You'll need cotton rope (often used for clotheslines and available in most hardware stores) to make your handcuffs.  3 feet of rope per person, with loops at each end.  Yarn, mono-filament fishing line and small diameter strings are not recommended for this activity.

Teachable Moment:  The concept of working through a problem that seems to have no obvious answer is a valuable work skill.  Creative, out of the box thinking is required.  Retracing the steps between the initial formation of the puzzle, and finally solving the puzzle, provides a road map for future investigations and solutions to other problems and puzzles.  Finding the answer as part of a group investigation and then sharing the solution is also a living lesson of an abundance mentality towards information sharing.

 Students work in groups of two, but those two often compete to be done before the rest of the class.  Rarely will pairs of students group with other pairs to think about the problem and offer their group problem solving skills to the challenge.  Because the pairs are linked together, they stay within that "box", ignoring the multiple resources they have around them.  I have used this lesson in professional development and with my students.  The abundance mentality rarely comes through without prompting, as pairs who solve the challenge often return to their seats, forgetting they need to help the rest of the group "escape".  This experience becomes a tangible anchor lesson to refer to when working through problems later in the year, when competition begins to overshadow collaboration.

Give the lesson a try with your students and let me know how it goes.

You will not find the solution here, work it out yourself.  And if you truly cannot figure out how to get free then here is a clue:

"How many holes can you find withing this puzzle right now?  Which holes are you using?  Which holes have you overlooked?  Look for a solution that does not require you to move your feet."

If that clue does not work, then send me a tweet at @TheHeadKnuckle and we may work something out, but try first and then we will collaborate on a possible solution to this problem.

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