“Familiarity breeds contempt.” – Aesop
A saying so familiar to us that it’s become some kind of self fulfilling, “Inception”-like statement.
I’ve seen this happen quite often. People start working together and the creative sparks go flying!
At first their work might show creative potential but the polish isn’t there yet. They keep working at it and after some time their ideas strike a balance between being both really creative and well polished. After a while it’s well crafted but loses its “edge”.
Around the same time they usually start either complaining or clamming up and “enduring” it. The work becomes stale and uninspired. There’s a general feeling of “what’s wrong?” and people find faults and/or place blame.
This happens in all kinds of relationships, regardless if it’s in love, business or creativity.
So, how do we get over it? We just might find the answer to be 2,6!
Sociologist Brian Uzzi was interested in knowing how successful teams were formed. Uzzi & his team went over the casting of 2000 Broadway shows and noticed a pattern emerging. They created a 5-point scale simply called “Q”.
A high Q-value (5) indicated that the people had worked together previously while a low value (1) indicated that they hadn’t.
If a show’s Q-value was below 1,7 the members didn’t know each other well enough and building a rapport would take a long time. For shows that had a value above 3.2 the people were a little too familiar and set in their ways which blocked creativity!
The sweet spot turned out to be somewhere between 2,4 and 2,6!
How should we apply this to our own creative lives? We should on a regular basis look for new people and teams to collaborate with.
The more new ideas and experiences we can find the better. This can make for some really long-term partnerships without it turning too stale. This is especially true if you’re in a small team of just a couple of people. Bringing something fresh to the table on a regular basis becomes a necessity.
Also, a cultural gap might improve the teams performance! Comparing a small team based in New York to a small team spread out across 3 different continents you’ll probably get a greater variety of ideas from the latter.
When I was thinking about this I noticed how networks of computers, electricity, roads, water etc also benefit from the same kind of connections. The thought bubble became a little too big but this almost seems like a law of nature!
To summarize, try to spread your time somewhat evenly between familiarity and novelty. This applies to teams, creativity, art, business and life in general.
Be 2,6 my friends!
Brian Uzzi – Teamwork & Creativity