Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal
By: Christine Fanning

The idea of teamwork conjures up images of pleasant, intelligent people, generously and patiently collaborating around the conference table.
It’s an ideal toward which all companies strive.

Yet, even while managers expound the values of teamwork, their companies may not be making use of a singular competitive advantage, often because they don’t know they have it.
Think Einstein or Edison.
Though most super creative people do not accomplish the individual stellar achievements of these geniuses, many people with a fraction of their creative brain power are hiding in plain sight in boardrooms and on production floors of businesses across the land.
The problems, say some of the experts, are that most businesses won’t endure the style of the stereotypical “genius” and with their compulsion for teamwork at any cost, many businesses tend to crush the spirit of creativity of potential geniuses within their midst.
“All employees are creative,” says Matt Taylor, CEO of MG Taylor Corp.- a creativity expert who put his life-long study of the human creative process to work in Fortune 500 companies, “but their creativity is blocked by structural elements within a company.” (Paul Roberts,
Take, for example, the experience of Taylor’s wife and business partner, Gail, whose revolutionary ideas about learning not only resulted in fifth and sixth-grade-level scores for her second grade students but raised eyebrows among school administrators.
It all started when a child asked Gail why bubbles have colors, says Taylor. She helped the children find the information, in this and other projects, both on and off campus, and they responded with increased curiosity and enthusiasm, and an ability for higher thinking.
But, what should have been laudable achievements were met with cynicism, because society’s expectations of people are low and people operate under false assumptions, explains Taylor. When the administration reacted with suspicion: “She must have been cheating!,” Gail, in disgust, left her career in public school teaching.
Geniuses are seen as incorrigible, says Larraine Segil, author of “Dynamic Leader, Adaptive Organization;” Fast Alliances: Power Your E-Business; and “Intelligent Business Alliances.” ( “Often they’re unable to shut up and they make the workplace more difficult because they become non-team players.” And if they’re not challenged, aren’t recognized for their achievements, or worse, made to feel they don’t fit in, like Gail Taylor, they leave.
For the self-conscious loner though, forced team play in a clannish environment almost always impedes creative contributions when fear of reprisal or ridicule is perceived, says David Renjilian, Ph.D. a clinical psychologist and associate professor of clinical psychology at Marywood University.
Whether gutsy or meek, employees in the medieval structures of many corporations that still exist today, are not able to be creative.
That’s because the pyramidal hierarchies of kings, nobles and serfs don’t breed creativity when they’re built on compliance, says Taylor.
“They need innovative creativity and high performance, so they yell at (employees) to be creative and perform.” he says. “You can’t construct a creative environment that way.”
“What it boils down to is leadership, says Segil. “An adaptable ‘genius’ can survive and thrive if a dynamic leader understands his/her company’s corporate stage.”
Extroverted personalities fit more strategically in start-up companies, she says, where their high energy and “crazy genius” is welcome because management here is typically fearless and more willing to accept failure in learning.
Taylor points to the early geniuses. “Very accomplished people may be shy and not mix well, but they do cluster together. Talk about the lone genius . . . think about the Left Bank. They all knew one another. Suddenly you had music in Austria, science in Germany, poetry in England, art in France. These things cluster,” says Taylor. “A creative person is a product of his environment.”
Indisputably, teamwork is an important part of human existence and no major achievement has ever been accomplished in a vacuum. But, according to Mike and Harvey Robbins in their book, “The New Why Teams Don’t Work,” sometimes there is no hope for the team because players “are so different and so poisonous to one another.”
Teams can only succeed when their members acknowledge that people are not the same and work to recognize and value differences among team members, they explain. “In the work world, we could generally give two hoots what a person’s insides are like. That is their business . . But how they act and interact is essential to their value to the enterprise,” they write. “You don’t have to like one another to produce. You do have to get along.”
However, recent research on individual creativity versus group brainstorming suggests that business’ emphasis on teams may be smothering the lone genius, says Renjilian.
Social loafing, where some may assume that others will take on the work, has been cited as a reason, Renjilian says. “It’s easier to let others take on the responsibility, especially if someone isn’t confident that the idea is a good one. It falls under conformity,” he says. “People are less likely to contribute if they feel pressure – and it doesn’t have to be overt pressure – even if they are confident and have a novel idea, because they may be afraid of being seen as different.”
The fact is, most innovative ideas come from the individual – and from people with average intelligence, says Renjilian, noting that even the gutsiest of potential geniuses can succumb to feelings of retribution and repression from clannish team members and superiors, in which case they’ll likely cease contributing and eventually leave – perhaps for more solitary creative environments.
But collaboration is inescapable, even in research and development, which lends itself more to individual creativity.
George Gomez, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology at the University of Scranton, points to those who came before him and the people who support him now in his award-winning research of how olfactory neurons – the receptor cells in humans that detect smells – regenerate. While he says that the idea for the funded project was his own, he can’t take all the credit.
“I’m standing on the shoulders of giants,” he says. “Science is bigger than any one individual and it’s important for scientists to bounce ideas off their colleagues. A scientist can’t be a pariah because he won’t see how his ideas fit into the bigger picture.”
Gomez’s two-year research project – which is said to have significant implications for broader research into the study of the neural changes associated with aging and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, and could also be a springboard for research into neuropsychiatric diseases such as manic-depressive disorder, and the further study of cells and genes – was recently awarded $100,000 by a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“The grant is an amazing vote of confidence by the state, the NIH administrative body and my colleagues,” says Gomez pointing out that the results of his research will be used as building blocks by other scientists.
Undoubtedly, recognition for creative achievements drives individual and team success, says Tom Zabroski, owner of Mojave Creative Advertising, Wilkes-Barre. His business has a heavy concentration on teamwork, from which, says Zabroski, individual genius springs.
“In a team, the self-motivated person rises and leads,” he explains, “then (in the same team) another person may blossom and spearhead the project. Team members learn from each other and motivate each other to rise to their ability” he says, and rather than crushing individual genius recognizes it with positive responses from members.
This constant rising of different members to their different abilities also gives rise to constant brainstorming, says Zabroski.
And this is what corporate America needs to get right, say the Taylors.
“Companies have identified their creative types and squirreled them away, confining creativity to a ‘safe’ place. Worse, when companies have needed creativity they have assumed it was a singular event.” Now forward-looking companies are realizing they have to transform the model of working by constructing their individual creativity into “group genius,” with “creativity happening all the time,” they say. (Paul Roberts,

The way to build group genius is to eliminate the blockages:

1. Know what you know
Recognize that your team’s collective knowledge and experience are among your most valuable resources. Assess your body of knowledge; find out in whom it resides and spread it around. Ensure that everyone knows what is known to eliminate duplicate efforts and build unity.

2. Clear the pathways
In most companies the creative process happens by accident. Find out how it happens in yours. Discover your company’s internal pathways and clear them of obstacles. Don’t let tradition dictate how things are done. Meetings should be times of intensive interaction and should be called only when a project or problem requires actual collaboration and group creativity.

3. Learn how you learn
Discover the processes by which your team gathers information or explores new ideas and assess your attitudes toward learning. If success depends on maintaining your body of knowledge, then learning must be a constant activity.

4. Environment
Establish the physical and psychological field for work. Creating a functional environment means departing from workplaces left over from the industrial era. Creative space must be adaptable to multiple uses – from large meetings to small breakouts.

5. Technology
It works for you, not the other way around. Used appropriately, it lets an enterprise leverage its creative work. But technology is also a false quick fix that can magnify and accelerate whatever flaws remain in the creative processes. Make your technology your own.

6. Project management
Manage the environment not the people. Make sure it maximizes creativity, that the body of knowledge is rich and accessible, that the team is as diverse as possible.

7. Venture management
See the big picture. Develop a specific corporate vision to bring “there” to “here.” Choose a preferred future state, then determine how to modify daily actions and processes to achieve it. It also means maintaining your organization’s health, preserving functional aspects and searching for new, more effective and creative methods.