Where do you get your inspiration? Do you find it in deep conversation and idea-swap with others, or do you find it in the moments of solitude and independent reflection? Quite honestly I can see truth in both of these assertions. Some of my best thinking has happened and could only have happened, during intense conversation and argument with others. Some of my best thinking has happened, and could only have happened, in the quiet introspective moments.
It seems from these two talks that we need to choose one or the other. Johnson takes the side of collectivity. Ideas, he claims, are generated "from other people, from people we've learned from, from people we run into in the coffee shop, and we stitch them together into new forms and we create something new. That's really where innovation happens. And that means that we have to change some of our models of what innovation and deep thinking really looks like". He's suggesting that new ideas come only through their being stitched together with other people. I don't think this can be argued. I don't think that we really have any of our own thoughts that haven't been constructed socially somehow, but that's a different paper. The question is whether or not the 'stitching' needs to happen collectively or not.
Susan Cain seems to think that collectivity is not necessary. In fact, she laments that "even in subjects like math and creative writing, which you think would depend on solo flights of thought, kids are now expected to act as committee members. And for the kids who prefer to go off by themselves or just to work alone, those kids are seen as outliers often or, worse, as problem cases." Her problem, it appears, arises as a response to arguments like Johnson's. In a way, though, aren't we generating ideas collectively when we read books? Does not the author become the interlocutor?
I tend to agree with Cain when she concedes that "we need to be teaching kids to work together, for sure, but we also need to be teaching them how to work on their own. This is especially important for extroverted children too. They need to work on their own because that is where deep thought comes from in part." In recent years, I think we have put too much emphasis on group work. As educators, we all know that some students do not blossom in group situations. Although I know that they need to have opportunity to develop those skills, I think that for those students who prefer independent work, we should provide opportunity for them to work with ideas quietly and introspectively.
Perhaps too we all tend to favour either introspective idea generation or collective moments of brainstorm to our own detriment. I can certainly see in my own life how I gravitate towards one more than the other. If there is truth to be found in both Cain's and Johnson's assertions, then it will certainly be in our own best interest to push ourselves into both areas more heartily.