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Balance between individual and group-genius

Science and art have been historically been defined by individual genius. In the 50′s, individual invention gave way to group/institutional invention (i.e. Bell Labs). Now it appears that loosely connected networks of specialized expertise (such as pharmaceutical networks or the network that was formed to research SARS at the height of the crisis in 2003) are providing answers to the most challenging questions of our era. At the heart of the transition from individual to institution to network innovation is obviously the role of the individual. Is Einstein the last genuis takes a look at the value of individual vs. group based activities: “”Successful research groups are those that grow and evolve on their own over time,” he says. “For example, an individual comes up with a good idea, gets funding, and new group begins to form around that good idea. This creates a framework where many smaller groups contribute to the whole.”"


  1. Chris Lott wrote:

    This trend (if there is one) toward “group genius” seems to be limited to scientific activity. Where’s the evidence this is happening in art? Art seems to be as much about individual genius as ever. Is this, then, the beginning of a further bifurcation between art and science? And what of philosophy?

    Inquiring minds want to know…

    Sunday, December 21, 2008 at 3:02 am | Permalink
  2. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Chris,

    Not sure how to address the art/philosophy distinction for group/individual. Art and philosophy are individual enterprises – and will likely stay so – because they are concerned with the expression of perspective and sensemaking frameworks. Both are as more concerned with expression of personal views than they are with innovating together with others.

    With that satid, SFMOMA and MOMA aggregate individual voices to provide a pattern of angst in a particular era. I saw Design and the Elastic Mind at MOMA in April…I was surprised at how strong the individual voice was in traditional art (the first several floors of MOMA) and how silent the solitary voice was once I got to the DEM exhibit.

    History seems to be concerned with selecting the genius voice from many different expressions. Had history unfolded differently, we’d have a different set of artists to study. McLuhan is selected because history unfolded as he envisioned it. Then we call him a genius. But he’s also partly lucky that things developed as they did. For every McLuhan, there are dozens of “geniuses” that history chose not to endow with genius status. The selection of artistic genius is more difficult precisely because it requires many voices from which to draw some framework of sensemaking…

    Sunday, December 21, 2008 at 2:19 pm | Permalink