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Keith Sawyer is an associate professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of the textbook Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, has designed video games for Atari, and lectures frequently to both academic and business audiences. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
Forget about "the myth of the solitary genius": collaborative effort generates ideas and inventions, says this useful, upbeat book about how "innovation always emerges from a series of sparks-never a single flash of insight." Judiciously wielding exercises and dozens of examples, Sawyer (Explaining Creativity) helps the reader understand how people think and function in and out of groups. He looks at how J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis composed their epic novels in concert, how unorganized individuals can come together to provide disaster relief more efficiently than government planners, how Charles Darwin and Samuel Morse built their work on others' discoveries, how information sharing helped Silicon Valley beat out Boston's computer startups. (Sawyer's riffs on jazz ensembles and improv comedy as sites of ingenuity are less convincing.) Basing much of his work on that of mentor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi-who writes about reaching the state of heightened consciousness he calls "flow"-Sawyer offers guidelines for creating "group flow." Insisting that "collaborative webs are more important than creative people," he calls for an "organizational culture that fosters equivocality, improvised innovation, and constant conversation-that's a recipe for group genius." Even if few readers are in a position to do away with their organizational chart, this is a solid recipe for "unexpected innovation." (June) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.