That Old “Design by Committee” Chestnut

June 25, 2012

It bugs me when technologists automatically blame subpar creative work on "design by committee." Individuals can make mediocre stuff just as easily as groups can make mediocre stuff. The effectiveness of a group doing creative work depends on whether or not there's a clear vision and strong leadership. Just because it's a group doesn't mean it's more likely to fail.

Of course, the word "committee" in "design by committee" implies that there is not a clear vision and strong leadership. When you have a group of people with those things, it's not a committee, it's a team.

Still, you rarely hear about great design by team. The myth of the lone genius, the brilliant solo auteur, persists. Lone geniuses do exist, but they're very, very rare. Even Steve Jobs had Woz and Ive.

I don't work well in groups. I work pretty well solo. I'm at my absolute best in a pair. When facing down a difficult problem, I'm likely to be my most open-minded, persistent, and creative riffing and building and even competing with the right person. In a strong pair—preferably a planner/explorer or mentor/mentee matchup—magic can happen.

I'm tired of hearing about lone geniuses and design by committee. Let's recognize more brilliant collaborations.