Group Behavior
April 30, 2004 5:55 AM   Subscribe

Psychology/Sociology Q [I think?] Does anyone else experience participatory inhibition when immersed in a like minded group? For example, a creative person becoming unusually shy/quiet within a team of creative people working on a [design] task? Lurkers on MeFi or other online communities might be another example. Or, the opposite: a creative person's creativity amplified [uninhibited?] in the presence of less creative people?

Is it a matter of personality/psychology? Is it confidence/self assuredness? Is it alterable? Imaginary?!

Sources for further reading and help clarifying the question appreciated.
posted by yoga to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know about the science behind it, or anything like that, but I definitely experience it (the shyness and quiet in a creative group setting).

Personally, I think it's a matter of comfort. I have never posted to MeFi, and comment pretty infrequently - part of the reason is because I'm content to watch and evaluate others' contributions. If something really struck me, I would post it, but everything that has shows up here in a matter of hours anyway.

I do, however, work extremely well in a creative group of 2 or 3 people (including myself).

One thing I find fascinating to observe in larger groups is the amplification of confidence. It's akin to the people who regularly post crap to the front page, and either don't know it or don't care. In meetings at work, I've seen people take a similar "shotgun full of shit" approach to participating, and I find it embarrassing. They contribute ideas, which is okay, but they also continue to press hard for those ideas even after they've been deemed unworkable or unsound.

I'm all for determination, but it's important to recognize when you've lost the fight.
posted by rocketman at 7:58 AM on April 30, 2004

I run a small theatre company in NYC, and I've noticed two very different sort of responses that various colleagues have when watching plays done by OTHER companies.

Assuming the play is terrible, many of my associates will say, "Thank GOD! I know we can do better than THAT!"

On the other hand, my reaction (and the reaction of some others that I know) to seeing a bad play is to get very depressed. A bad play gives me the (irrational) feeling that ALL theatre is bad. That doing theatre is worthless, and that my show will probably suck too. If I see a great piece of theatre, it excites me and makes me want to immediately run to rehearsal.

A couple of years ago, I directed Shakespeare's "The Winters Tale," and by an odd coincidence, there were three other companies doing the same play around the same time. Mine was to be the last one to open.

I was SO excited. I went to see all the other productions. I thought it was thrilling to be able to see four (very different) interpretations.

But many of my collaborators were depressed by the "competition," and announced that under NO circumstances would they see the other versions.

I guess it comes down to (a) do you feel that you are in competition with the other artists, and (b) are you worried about "being original"?

The second question is really interesting. To me, art ISN'T about being original. Art is about telling a story (or evoking an image or a sound or whatever). "Being original" is about ME and MY EGO, and has nothing to do with the story.

As a director, it's my job to do whatever is best for the story. So if I get an idea from someone else's production that would serve the story better than my own idea, then it's my duty to use the other person's idea.

Obviously, I need to avoid plagiarism. But the point is, I try to serve the story and not me. When I was younger, that was hard. I wanted people to walk out of the theatre saying, "Wow! That director came up with some really cool ideas." Now I cringe when I hear that. I try not to be cool.

Once I developed this philosophy, it was very easy for me to give up serving my ego and serve the play instead. And once I started doing that, I LOVED exchanging ideas with other practitioners.
posted by grumblebee at 9:58 AM on April 30, 2004

I find that I'm energized working with other creative people, and I'm generally comfortable with participating actively. However, when confined with overly-talkative, self-involved people I tend to both tune out and clam up. I get to thinking "I'm not here to waste time competing with you to get a word in edgewise." To me, it's not at all a shy/quiet thing, though it might appear that way. It's more like "if you don't really want my input then I'm (mentally) out of here."

To my mind, the "participatory inhibition" described by 'yoga' is more likely a result of personality and social factors than of some creativity-wave pattern-interference.
posted by Tubes at 10:23 AM on April 30, 2004

Deborah Tannen's book Talking from 9 to 5 addresses situations like you describe. She covers a variety of topics related to workplace conversation. My roommate had the book lying around and I picked it up and found it so compelling I read the whole thing.
posted by headless at 11:09 AM on April 30, 2004

this happens to me. i was once invited to a luncheon of brilliant and well-known graphic artists in san francisco. i was asked because, i think, they expected help with a new project from me. i was totally mute, and not just star-struck, but i became totally shy. i am never shy with anyone else - just other professionals in my field (and sometimes, for some reason, with my parents, but we'll let freud deal with that one).
posted by luriete at 3:29 PM on April 30, 2004

Here's my story: I made contact with a local group who create in the same medium I enjoy. I was excited and nervous about the first time I was invited to one of their informal get-togethers, and was too intimidated to say much while I was there. They were all older, and some made good livings with their art; I felt totally outclassed. They all knew each other pretty well, so I felt like an outsider in that way, too. I haven't gone back to a group get-together since then; I may give it another try sometime in the future, though.

I find I'm most creative when all alone. I work with some of the best designers in the country every day, and they're decent, nice people. It took me a long time, though, before I began to feel that I could even talk about my own artistic pursuits.
posted by icetaco at 9:45 PM on April 30, 2004

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