Thursday, February 14, 2008

Group Think? I Think Not

When a group of people spend a lot of time together, they may start to notice that they have more in common than the one or two things that brought them together as a group in the first place. I may have talked about it before, but many of the Pirates like Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman, Lost, Heroes and chocolate. We originally met in another group, where we came together because we want to improve our writing. We became the Pirates, I think, partly because we have some of these things in common in addition to liking each other's writing and respecting each other's opinion.

After a group is together for a while, though, there may be a tendency to develop Group Think. If one member of the group likes something, then all members must like it too. I was a little worried that this might be happening when I got to the gathering last Thursday. DB, Ali and Nicole were already there. Now I know the Ali and Mary are experienced jewelry makers and that DB is learning. Nicole was asking Ali if she did any metalworking because Nicole was thinking of taking a class. DB piped up and said, "The one at Bemis? I'm thinking of taking that, too." So now we have 4 people making jewelry. Do I have to start making jewelry? No, of course, not. And the conversation shifted to another topic and no issue.

Would it be a bad thing if all the members started making jewelry? Probably not. As a matter of fact, I'd love to see what sorts of the things the guys came up with. But where there can be a problem is if the writing starts to homogenize and the feedback all sounds the same. I've seen this happen before to some extent, and it's not a good thing. After some objective thought, I really don't see that happening here. Everyone has a pretty strong personality and feels comfortable standing up for their own position. And there are very distinctive and different voices in the work. In some instances tastes vary dramatically.

Something that drove that home for me is something Jenny wrote me. The group has all pretty much signed up on one of those library social sites. You join, list all the books you've read or own or both and then rate them on a scale of 1-5. You make a list of friends that you want to share that information with. After about a week of listing and rating books, but not yet writing reviews on why I ranked them where I did, I got an email from Jenny. She said she thought it was funny that we had read so many of the same books, but ranked them differently.
We both liked Haunted by Chuck Palaniuk, but she gave it a 5 while I gave it a 3. I thought it was a well-written, provocative book. Funny and horrifying at the same time. And a real page turner. But I haven't sought out any of his other books. I didn't relate to any of the characters. Didn't mind putting the book down when I finished. So I liked it (3), but didn't think it was awesome (5). Jenny obviously felt differently

These differences are as important for the health of the group as the similarities. I think we'll continue as a group for a while. That makes me smile.