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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 25, Issue 4

Decoding the Genius of Groups




Credit: Sean McCabe

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Nothing beats a supportive group to jump-start your own thinking. On a recent Thursday I was suffering from a lack of inspiration, so I reached out to Scientific American Mind's followers on Twitter and Facebook to ask them what they most wanted to learn about the mind and brain. Three hours later I had a list of story ideas that could fill the magazine for an entire year.

One of those suggestions—how social groups shape the mind—dovetails with this issue's cover story, “Creativity Is Collective.” S. Alexander Haslam, a member of Scientific American Mind's advisory board, and his colleagues Inmaculada Adarves-Yorno and Tom Postmes wanted to debunk the prevailing myth that genius is a lone endeavor. As they recount, we rely on others at critical junctures to sharpen our thinking and to help us persevere through a difficult task. So surround yourself with people who galvanize you—they could play a pivotal role in your own ingenuity.

Yet as Louis Pasteur famously quipped, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” To that end, psychologists have identified the behaviors and brain processes that accompany the different stages of creativity: exploration, focus, incubation, insight and follow-through. Only after an initial period of exploration and focus can a social group propel you forward. In “The Aha! Moment,” writer Nessa Victoria Bryce analyzes the distinctive thinking style shared by many inventive people, offering lessons for all of us.

To see ingenuity in action, I recommend checking out “Conquering Vertigo.” Neurophysiologist James Phillips describes how he and his collaborators sought to restore a sense of balance to people suffering from a debilitating inner ear disorder. Several researchers have attempted to design a device for this purpose before, but Phillips and his group took a different approach. Instead of building a nerve stimulator from scratch, they adapted a cochlear implant. Now they are testing the first implant for balance disorders in humans.

As Phillips's story illustrates, a group effort brings breakthroughs to the fore. Would you like to join in on Scientific American Mind's creative process? Send us your ideas at the e-mail address below or find us on social media. Together we can make great things happen.

This article was originally published with the title "The Genius of Groups."

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