Friday, 31 August 2012

Aim at unity not uniformity

Those musical ensembles that stand out as the most original and best achieve a difficult feat: they are able to reconcile the tensions between the individual’s need for self-expression and the group’s need for unity of purpose and direction.

John Aldiss, the well-known choral conductor, encouraged each singer to sing with his or her own unique voice within the overall sound world or ‘harmony’ of his choir. The Takacs Quartet, generally accepted to be one of the best string quartets in the world, achieves a similar thing. When writing about its playing, critics comment that even within very difficult, dense and contrapuntal passages each player manages to keep their own individual voice whilst simultaneously supporting and creatively weaving between around those others that surround it.

Often, when responding to demands for quick wins and instantly innovative solutions, we can force harmony between people, flattening out the unique contributions that individuals could make and forcing their voices down uncomfortably constraining lines.

If you want your group to make best use of an individual’s ideas and identify truly innovative solutions, you need to reconcile the tensions between the individual and the group. This needs to be done not by forcing a compressed cohesion but by respecting and supporting the individual voices we hear and interact with.

The next time you need a group to address a problem and discover innovative solutions to it seek to acknowledge, encourage and make use of individual perceptions and ideas by:

  • Giving each person the opportunity to attune their thoughts to the problem and think about their own interpretations of and responses to it.
  • Explicitly acknowledging and valuing individual perceptions and ideas.
  • Providing a clear structure for addressing the issue that allows each person the time and space to express and explore their ideas.
  • Explicitly looking for ways to combine and weave individual perceptions and ideas together in new, interesting and supportive ways.
  • Working hard at incorporating differing perceptions and ideas into the overall latticework of the group’s endeavours rather than doing your best to pick them out and leave them to one side. 

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