The Rise of the New Groupthink

January 15th, 2012

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Via: New York Times:

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.

The New Groupthink has overtaken our workplaces, our schools and our religious institutions. Anyone who has ever needed noise-canceling headphones in her own office or marked an online calendar with a fake meeting in order to escape yet another real one knows what I’m talking about. Virtually all American workers now spend time on teams and some 70 percent inhabit open-plan offices, in which no one has “a room of one’s own.” During the last decades, the average amount of space allotted to each employee shrank 300 square feet, from 500 square feet in the 1970s to 200 square feet in 2010.

Our schools have also been transformed by the New Groupthink. Today, elementary school classrooms are commonly arranged in pods of desks, the better to foster group learning. Even subjects like math and creative writing are often taught as committee projects. In one fourth-grade classroom I visited in New York City, students engaged in group work were forbidden to ask a question unless every member of the group had the very same question.

The New Groupthink also shapes some of our most influential religious institutions. Many mega-churches feature extracurricular groups organized around every conceivable activity, from parenting to skateboarding to real estate, and expect worshipers to join in. They also emphasize a theatrical style of worship — loving Jesus out loud, for all the congregation to see. “Often the role of a pastor seems closer to that of church cruise director than to the traditional roles of spiritual friend and counselor,” said Adam McHugh, an evangelical pastor and author of “Introverts in the Church.”

Related: Borg

22 Responses to “The Rise of the New Groupthink”

  1. steve holmes Says:

    If you don’t know exactly what you are, do the Myers/ Briggs Type Indicator. It’s online.

  2. Miraculix Says:

    I’ve been borderline I/O for as long as I’ve been taking the various personality tests, including the more subtle and descriptive Meyers/Briggs quadrant-style typing.

    The social side thrives on interaction and interplay, live music performance (or spectating) being the environment it revels in most strongly. Meanwhile, the internal engine that produces the music is classic “introvert”. It requires — no demands — clear mental space and a lack of outside distraction from others to hit stride.

    As a result, I tend to mystify most people. The more extroverted simply can NOT understand how I can survive in a rural backwater environment like the one I call home today, especially by way of Seattle & the Sunset Strip.

    I don’t encounter that many introverts, truth be told, since they tend to shy away from busy and engaging social environments as a rule. Those that I do know can often completely grok my inner poet & creative spirit but can not fathom why I would EVER have a desire to get up on stage and sing or play an instrument.

    So Kev, which way did YOU vote? =)

  3. Kevin Says:

    I’m definitely an introvert; Myers-Briggs INTJ.

  4. Miraculix Says:

    INTJ: Not wholly surprising after several years following your perspectives. I’m left sadly resorting to cliche, but I guess it does take one to know one… =)

    I’ve long suspected this might be the case, as I too have consistently tested INTJ over the years on Meyers-Briggs variants. Always nested firmly against the statistical “borderline” between the I/E character trait groupings.

  5. neologiste Says:

    kevin, as frivolous as it would be, can you do a myers-briggs type poll? that could be interesting. people who think they are one thing sometimes turn out very differently when answering honestly… i’m really curious about the rest of your readers.

    c/o INFP.

  6. pookie Says:


    A favorite of mine — the famous “Caring for your Introvert” essay by Jonathan Rauch:

  7. Kevin Says:

    Cryptogon is crawling with people who have the rarer Myers-Briggs classifications. I know this because I mentioned that I was an INTJ in an old post and people emailed me about how they were also INTJs, INFJs (rarest, I think), INTPs. Not one person mentioned being an E-type.

    @neologiste, I actually thought about creating the very poll you asked for, but that would have required me to input all 16 Myers-Briggs types into the poll software. I happened to have a bowl of cherries and an episode of Fringe calling out to me at the time, so that’s why there are just three options on this one. 😉

  8. steve holmes Says:

    Ok I’m an ENFP. I have come to appreciate and seek out interoverts for the sake of balance and seem to be able to handle living “20 miles past the edge of civilization” in Alaska. I married an INFJ who sometimes flips to ISTJ when under pressure.

  9. Noble Says:

    Groupthink is in and yet we’re more isolated from each other than ever. The real you is forced to retreat as social norms take over. It looks like people are interacting with each other, but really they’re acting out social norms.

    I used to be INTJ but as I’ve gotten older and retested I score more INFJ.

  10. pookie Says:


    I’ll have to see if I’ve changed, too, as I took the test 30 years ago. But perhaps the test itself, the wording thereof, has changed in that time. Anyone know?

  11. Dennis Says:

    Another INTJ here.

  12. Kevin Says:


    I took it in a high school psychology class (1980s) and then a few years later in a college psychology class and it came up the same both times. Out of curiosity, I took it a couple of years ago and the result was the same.

    However, some have told me that it has changed for them after decades.

  13. Dennis Says:

    @ Pookie

    Just read the article you linked to. The bit about ‘content-free talk’ reminded me of a holiday I had in Fiji where I stayed on a tiny island and got to drink kava with the Fijian men from a village on the neighbouring island on several nights.

    They told me kava was useful for village meetings because it makes for a very non-confrontational approach when considering important issues. We spent long periods in comfortable silence and it seemed every contribution to a discussion was punctuated by a peaceful, spacious and unrushed moment. Each speaker was heard with respect.

    I should add that on other occasions, we just cracked jokes, sang and played music 🙂

  14. Josh Says:

    “Again, other traits being the same, an Introverted person is 2.6 times more likely to have a high IQ than one who is Extraverted; a Thinking (logic-oriented) person is 4.5 times more likely to have a high IQ than a Feeling (people-oriented) person; and a Judging person (one who seeks closure) is 1.6 times as likely to have a high IQ than a Perceiving person (one who likes to keep his options open)”


  15. pookie Says:


    That Fijian holiday sounds fab. If I have to be around Other People (mostly extroverts, damn it all), I’d rather it consist of “long periods in comfortable silence.” My dream is to attend a dinner party with ONLY introverts as guests, (preferably libertarians; we’re talking “dream on,” here). Smart conversation worth listening to, and I’d try to steer it into “woo woo” subjects. Hasn’t happened yet in my lifetime, as the odds are so against it. If there’s just ONE extrovert, he will yabber on and on, causing at least *this* introvert to look wide-eyed at her silent neighbor and whisper, “Got any poison I can slip into his drink?”

    Anyone game for a Cryptogoners’ Inaugural “Extroverts Shut the Fuck Up” Dinner Party?

  16. Miraculix Says:

    ESFU, the legendary “lost” 17th morphology… =)

    Robert Johnson, he was likely ESFU. Love to dance and sing and play all night long, but didn’t talk much at all — unless a sharp cookie kick-started him on the right subject. Music. Women. Whiskey. Music.

    My INTRO tendencies are pretty clear behaviorally speaking, but I also possess an almost pre-natural ability to cogitate out loud that cuts cleanly against the grain — with one major difference.

    When I do get rolling, it is the exact opposite of “content free”, a tendency my comments here likely reveal to the more-or-less observant.

    Couple this with the fact that I’ve always tested “borderline” I/E and it’s easy to see how and why my contemplations on the relative veracity of typology systems have leaned toward exceptions as much as expected characteristic traits.

    Any you just gotta love the “woo-woo” subjects, eh Pook?

    There is NO better or faster way to hijack a classic, pointless EXTRO ramble than a strategic lane change into a parallel topic with high-level social radioactivity. Sure, you risk a bit of scorn and derision, but when you pull it off the results can be genuinely sublime… =)

  17. Mucius Porsena Says:

    When I was a freshman in high school, I tested INTJ unambiguously, although borderline I/E. I haven’t thought about Myers-Briggs since then. This discussion prompted me to retest (a few times), and I was really surprised that they all came out the same ENFP–but looking at the breakdown, while the N is completely dominant, the E, F, & P only pull out slightly ahead.

    I think there’s a fairly simple and profound explanation for this. Throughout my early 20s (I’m 28 now), I repeatedly experienced bouts of crippling anxiety and depression that closed off any conventional routes my peers were using to enter the adult world. Eventually I got serious about my own emotional development, and also found a tiny college in the desert almost entirely populated with people who shared the same interests and values (everyone there actually has to take the *identical* course of study). Being able (required, really) to constantly interact with “my people” in ways that were truly fulfilling, and that engaged with who I really am, and who they really are, has made me a bit more extraverted. Caring about the people with whom I engaged, for so long, had the effect of making me a little more perceiving than judging. And working on myself to overcome depression and anxiety had the effect of strengthening my ability to feel deeply, but not in a way that compromised my thinking.

    When I’m among crowds of people with whom I clearly do not related, I think I shift back more toward INTJ. But if I’m interacting with one person, even if they are very different from me, I am now able to engage that person in a genuine way, without withdrawing into myself.

    @pookie — I went to your dinner party for four years, and everyone looked a lot more extraverted by the end. It’s unfortunate that such meetings are very rare. I think the real individuals would have an easier time flourishing if more of them could find tribes that fostered individuality rather than suppressing it. They do exist, though.

  18. pessimistic optimist Says:

    @Mucius Porsena

    had a similar experience w/ small communities in early highschool, very good for lots of different kinds of people. i think even the “popular” types benefit from that environment, it gives them an example of how to be successful that isnt traditionally something they would see.

    saw this some time back, felt appropriately resonant, struck me in a very unsettling way.

    choice quote:
    “no matter how sophisticated we considered ourselves to be, once the number of individuals capable of filling roles greatly exceeded the number of roles,

    only violence and disruption of social organization can follow. … Individuals born under these circumstances will be so out of touch with reality as to be incapable even of alienation.”

  19. pookie Says:


    after reading your comments for years, I can’t conceive of you ever having “content free” speech. You can be the Token Extrovert (Token Borderline Extrovert?) at our ESFU parties.

    yes … give me woo woo or give me death. Can’t help poking sticks at arcane bodies. Was an overly curious cat in a former lifetime, I imagine. Very pleased when Kevin started his Backchannel, and any time he’d like to be Honored Guest Lecturer at a Woo Woo Gathering for ‘Goners, I’ll supply the vino.

    @Mucius Porsena

    I agree — the “shifting nature” of Perceiving vs. Judging, depending on with whom one is interacting. And I envy you your four years of extrovert-free dinner parties.

    @pessimistic optimist

    great link. thanks.

  20. Miraculix Says:

    @ Pook…

    I’ve become a seriously cheap date over the last few years chasing the WAPF dragon back to genuine physical health and vitality, despite becoming a middle-aged rock-and-roller at the same time.

    Fortunately, as it turns out, party less and play/practice more suits me to a T. I think the best course would be to exorcise my EXTRO demons with a little live music for the assembled, after which those who can keep up are welcome to settle into content-rich rumination into the wee hours.

    My INTJ stage rider for the ESFU party:

    Mineral water
    Fresh RAW milk
    A private smoke-free dressing room w/220VAC service (converter OK)

  21. pookie Says:



    Deal. No problemo, with 230V mains in my neck of the woods.

    And … and … can you play Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home?”

    or, like, you know, Traffic’s “Light Up or Leave Me Alone?”

  22. Miraculix Says:

    Light Up is definitely in E. Time to fire up the Traffic version on the Jukebox… yep, it’s E on the album version. I-vii-IV with a brief excursion over to the ii & vi in the bridge sequences. Know modes. Can do. Along with Can’t Find My Way Home? (that one’s surely in D) Slightly more challenging, but very familiar. A not-so-closet Steve Winwood fan, I see.

    Winwood is clearly an INTRO type… =)

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