Nina Simon may have left museum administration and being an agent of change behind to write books, but she still manages to live and think right on the cusp of things. Today, I receive an article from her substack site where she reflects back on the process of creative collaboration when she was working at a museum versus her interactions with her editor as an author.
She likens the process of working as an author as baton passing. She will send materials to her editor and after some time, the editor sends the materials back with great questions and comments. When she was working in a museum, she was often in a room with many others brainstorming all sorts of ideas in real time.
Reflecting back, she wonders if she may have misused the brainstorming sessions. Was she using them to present ideas or solve problems that she hadn’t properly developed or worked through? Was she similarly demanding answers and ideas from others without providing them sufficient time to contemplate good solutions? She also wondered if used the sessions to insert herself into other people’s projects and exert control over them.
I thought this was great and something to really ponder, but fate doubled down and the second item on my social media feed came from Dan Pink who linked to a Harvard Business Review article that not only said asynchronous work can bolster creativity, but that some of Nina’s instincts were correct.
Studies show that women and people from marginalized communities are given fewer opportunities to speak and are criticized more harshly when they do in a range of synchronous work settings. Consequently, synchronous teams may inhibit women and marginalized people’s expression of new or risky ideas, ultimately making teams less equal and their output less creative
In a study conducted with Baul folk musicians in India, a style that lends itself to both synchronous and asynchronous practice, researchers found that synchronous collaboration could lead to people feeling stifled whereas asynchronous practice could result in greater creativity, despite and probably due to, mistakes practitioners made.
Initial interviews revealed that women singers performing synchronously with men felt constantly “corrected by [their] seniors” and sensed that their fellow musicians “did not stand by [them].” They did not report being offered the “encouragement” and “positive reinforcement” that their men counterparts described receiving from their colleagues.
We found that women’s performances were rated 17% higher when they recorded asynchronously, and that this effect was driven by the degree of creativity in their singing, based on ratings by experts in Baul folk music. (The experts assigned overall ratings to every track as well as timestamped all creative choices made by the singer.)
This creative freedom when singing alone was further captured in interviews with the experimental subjects. After recording asynchronously, one woman said, “I was completely free. I could sing as I wished. I missed some notes at a place, but then I caught on with it later on. I had complete independence and it felt like I was flying like a bird.” Men’s performances were not significantly different in the two conditions, and thus asynchronicity seems to help women without hurting men.
The coincidence of these two pieces on the same subject coming to my attention today provides a lot to consider.