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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

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January 23, 2012

This All Too Open Office

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Posted by Derek

Since the topic of open offices in lab design has come up around here several times, I thought I'd point out this op-ed from the New York Times. It's from the author of a new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, and you can guess her point from that title:

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.

Well, I wish that I could describe myself as "spectacularly creative", but the rest of that last sentence sounds pretty much like me, anyway. I have no problem talking with people when I meet them. I speak up at meetings, and I really enjoy giving talks to audiences. At the same time. I find that my best thinking is done very much alone. Once I've got something worked out in my head, I'm fine with roaming up and down the halls telling people about it and hearing the reaction. But that working-out has to be done in silence. The phone rings, and my thoughts all take off like like a flock of pigeons. Getting to settle back into their assigned places is not the work of a moment.

For all I know, the new book addresses this problem, but we really need a wider spectrum of words other than "introvert" and "extrovert". There are people who absolutely need human company, human noises and chatter around them. Others would rather have a bit of that, but feel it can be overdone, or just need it in defined amounts, like a meal. And some people don't mind much one way or another, while others are irritated or even panicked by it. You can sort people out, in similar fashion, by their responses to solitude and silence. Given that any research organization is going to have a variety of types in it, you'd think that there would need to be some places where the quiet types could hang out, just as there should be some where the gregarious ones can find what they need.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


COMMENTS

1. Anon on January 24, 2012 10:43 PM writes...

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.

Another new-age feel-good fairy tale from stupid people who now inhabit the offices of executive mediocrity.

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2. chirality on January 25, 2012 9:53 AM writes...

It is great that you mention psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in your post. I loved his seminal paper or tongue twisters.

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3. daen on January 25, 2012 12:22 PM writes...

my thoughts all take off like a flock of pigeons

Exactly my feelings. I'd say a good 90% of solving any given problem is getting into the frame of mind to solve the problem. Us software engineers, famously, do tend towards introversion. I remember a colleague of mine who built what could only be described as a sound-proofed nest around his desk in order that he wouldn't be disturbed during a particularly taxing period of coding. But when I worked for J P Morgan, for reasons too otiose to rehearse here, I ended up with a seat on the trading floor (yes, I am a software engineer, not a trader), and actually found the ebb and flow of noise strangely soothing; with only a little bit of concentration and imagination, I could imagine it was a babbling brook or stream, rather than a bunch of braying, overweight, red-suspender wearing yuppies.

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4. @karldcollins on January 25, 2012 1:01 PM writes...

I am just completing my PhD and have spent the last 3.5 years working in a communal office. It has varied from 15-30 people in this office, with seats for about 20, and computers for less than half.

Although this does allow for facile sharing of ideas as I am usually sat on the lap of the person I need to talk to, generally speaking it has been a horrific ordeal. Whether the chit chat be inane or a discussion on the latest advancement in my field, I do not need to hear it when clarifying my thoughts or constructing an idea.

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5. @karldcollins on January 25, 2012 1:02 PM writes...

I am just completing my PhD and have spent the last 3.5 years working in a communal office. It has varied from 15-30 people in this office, with seats for about 20, and computers for less than half.

Although this does allow for facile sharing of ideas as I am usually sat on the lap of the person I need to talk to, generally speaking it has been a horrific ordeal. Whether the chit chat be inane or a discussion on the latest advancement in my field, I do not need to hear it when clarifying my thoughts or constructing an idea.

Permalink to Comment

6. Dana H. on January 26, 2012 1:34 PM writes...

I think the concept of "introversion" is somewhat orthogonal to the need for silence when thinking. Some people I know like to sit alone in their offices and work, but have tunes cranking in their earbuds while they do so. I'm the type who needs complete silence and freedom from distraction when thinking through a hard problem.

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