Thursday, February 16, 2012

Brainstorming Doesn't Work, But Shuls Do

I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of a shul and the ever-increasing need in our generation to bring people together - not just virtually - but in real time and in real life. Of course the notion of Beit Knesset speaks directly to this point. What we sometimes under-appreciate is the value of being together with people who are unlike us.

I highly recommend Jonah Lehrer's recent article on Groupthink in the New Yorker for two reasons. First, it makes a fascinating and compelling argument against the coventional wisdom of brainstorming. And second, it argues for expanding the opportunities for vibrant human interaction and even healthy friction. Rather than coming together simply to be mutually supportive, it's possible to come together to share ideas and challenges that push an agenda ahead faster and more effectively.

When Steve Jobs was planning Pixar's headquarters in 1999, he insisted the building be arranged around a cenral atrium so that all kinds of people would bump into each other. For Jobs, it was about maximizing creativity. For shuls, I think it's about maximizing humanity. Our lives are so silo-ed. We form little networks and sub-networks around people who are just like us. They're at the same life stage, they have similar interests, or they work in our field. This is a natural and healthy phenomenon. But it also leaves us short-changed, limiting our opportunities to interact in real ways with people who aren't exactly like us.

Shuls are a treasure trove - a safe and known space where every member has access to an extraordinarily diverse group of people doing extraordinary things. The normal barriers of rank and status dissolve the moment we walk into a sanctuary. Each of us is just a davener. There's nothing stopping the first year associate from striking up a conversation with the senior partner. And there's nothing stopping the veteran from striking up a conversation with a beginner. It's rare in life to have this kind of access. But too few of us take advantage of it.

You can find a slightly more developed piece on this on here. I invite you to think more about how each of us can maximize the shul-going experience and bring people together in ways that simply aren't happening at other times or in other venues.

John Lehrer's new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works comes out in March. If it's as good as his article, you will enjoy it.

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