Group capacity to think

To the degree an individual participates in the life of a group, the behavior tends to be formatted according to conventions of speech, concept and procedure. One uses the vocabulary, ideas and behaviors easily understood and accepted by the majority of group members, in order to gain influence within the pace and formatting of group work. To stray outside of the commonalities of the group is to risk frustrating or alienating some members of the group and consequently losing their support, or to slow the pace of the activity and interfere with meeting goals, or to fragment the group into conflicting factions, or to require too much effort or time to understand and risk being interrupted, ignored or otherwise silenced.

With some individuals things can be different — if the individuals do not insist on enforcement of group conventions.

Once again, this connects with Buber’s distinction between “the social” and “the interhuman”.


Deep innovation and novel syntheses require new procedures for conceiving and evaluating thoughts, new language to express new thoughts (and to distinguish the new thoughts from older, more familiar ones), a willingness to wrestle with frustrations, unclarity and dead-ends — in other words, it runs counter to everything that makes groups function effectively. This is why innovations tend to be hatched by individuals and why “group-think” has such bad connotations. However, groups outfitted with new conventions — perhaps in workshop settings or in semi-permanent  collectives governed by new codes, processes or cultural values — might produce results impossible in other conditions. (A way to see it is that a workshop or a department or team can be socially programmed to produce different results.) But the novel results achieved are still different in kind from the more flexible conditions of individual or small group work.


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