BOOK NEWS AND REVIEWS
ORGANIZING GENIUS: THE SECRETS OF CREATIVE COLLABORATION BY WARREN BENNIS AND PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN (1997). READING, MA: ADDISON-WESLEY.
What factors lead to highly productive groups? What types of individuals make the best leaders for organizing and directing these groups? Warren Bennis, a Distinguished Professor of Business Administration at the University of Southern California, and Patricia Ward Biederman, a feature writer for the Los Angeles Times, provide informative answers to these questions based on their intensive study of seven "Great Groups" -- the Walt Disney studio that has produced such classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Lion King; the Computer Science Laboratory at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) of Xerox Corporation (developers of the first personal computer); the Apple Computer team that expanded PARC's concepts into the Macintosh computer; the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign team; the Skunk Works group at Lockheed Corporation (designed the first U.S. jet fighter near the end of World War II, the U-2 long-range aircraft, and the Stealth fighter-bomber); the professors and artists who founded Black Mountain College; and the scientists who produced the Atomic Bomb in the Manhattan Project. To learn how these groups operated, the authors interviewed hundreds of former participants and other people associated with them. "All seven groups are great in several senses. Each was or is made up of greatly gifted people. Each achieved or produced something spectacularly new, and each was widely influential, often sparking creative collaboration elsewhere. . . ." (p. 4). "We chose our seven Great Groups to underscore the range of fields, including education, in which creative collaboration can take place. We also picked these seven because each makes a fascinating story. Vibrant with energy and ideas, full of colorful, talented people playing for high stakes and often racing against a deadline, Great Groups are organizations fully engaged in the thrilling process of discovery. . . ." (p. 7).
There are many useful lessons here for educators of the gifted concerning the organization of group work by highly gifted individuals. All of these lessons converge on the issue of cooperative learning as it is currently practiced in today's classrooms. From gleaning the major points of Organizing Genius, this reviewer has concluded that cooperative learning can be effective for groups of similarly gifted students when they are encouraged to function in a dynamic and innovative classroom. But, they must work with other students of similar high abilities under creative leadership in order for cooperative learning to have a positive influence on their lives.
To understand this conclusion, it is necessary to study Bennis and Biederman's findings which are discussed in the first two chapters ("Introduction" and "The End of The Great Man"). ". . . .Groups become great only when everyone in them, leaders and members alike, is free to do his or her absolute best. This book is about organizing gifted people in ways that allow them both to achieve great things and to experience the joy and personal transformation that such accomplishment brings. In today's Darwinian economy, only organizations that find ways to tap the creativity of their members are likely to survive." (p. xvi). Although the myth of the lone leader dominates American culture, the reality is that many outstanding accomplishments in modern society involve great talents coalescing around a great leader, e.g., Steve Jobs at Apple Computer, and Robert Oppenheimer in the Manhattan Project. This principal can be seen in many different areas of human attainment -- for example, the Bauhaus School in Architecture, the Guaneri String Quartet, the Duke Ellington Band, the New York Philharmonic, developments in technology, and advancements in medical science. A great leader is usually necessary for a Great Group to reach its goals -- the authors believe that the future success of industry will be based on identifying and nurturing this dynamic combination of gifted individuals (p. 3). Bennis and Biederman also stress that artists and writers have organized themselves into Great Groups. Thus, Michelangelo trained and supervised a working group of thirteen talented artists that helped him paint the Sistine Chapel. The French impressionists (Monet, Manet, Degas, and Renoir) engaged in a synergistic artistic relationship. And groups of writers and artists in England (Bloomsbury group) and America (Algonquin Round Table) provided each other with a stimulating environment for promoting creative literary and artistic achievements. From their study of the seven groups discussed in this book, the authors identify some commonalities which might assist educators of the gifted in establishing exciting and productive classroom groups: (1) Each group included in Organizing Genius had extraordinary leaders who had a keen eye for identifying talent; (2) the participants were almost always young -- about 25 years; (3) many of the group members were playful and mavericks in their fields; (4) they demonstrated the "delusional confidence" of youth which fueled the group to accomplish what was originally thought to be impossible; (5) the members were tinkerers and very curious; (6) they would spend hours pursuing problems or trying to figure out how something works; and (7) they had hungry, urgent minds. The extraordinary leaders of these Great Groups understood that people are motivated by solving meaningful problems, and that they must guide the dream of greatness (the central theme of all Great Groups). They were skilled at identifying the right person for a particular job, and encouraging independence among all members of their group.
This well-written book contains an amazing summary (within a relatively small space of 229 pages) of the workings of highly gifted groups. The story of these groups can help educators of the gifted to organize authentic and dynamic cooperative learning environments in their schools and classrooms.
MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES VIDEOS -- The video presentation entitled, How Are Kids Smart?, includes statements by the superintendent, principal, teachers and Dr. Howard Gardner concerning how MI theory has been used in Fuller Elementary School in Gloucester, MA. Excellent classroom demonstrations are also included. We recommend that educators of the gifted study this video to stimulate their thinking about how MI theory can be applied to the differentiated classroom. Order the Teachers' and/or Administrators' versions from: National Professional Resources; 25 South Regent Street; Port Chester, NY 10573. Tel.: 914-937-8879.
EXCELLENT GIFTED PROGRAM RESOURCE -- The 1997 Educational Opportunity Guide: A Directory of Programs for the Gifted lists hundreds of locations across the nation that provide education for the gifted. Concise descriptions are arranged alphabetically by states. Order copies from: Duke University Talent Identification Program (TIP); 1121 West Main Street, Suite 100; Durham, NC 27701. Tel.: 919-683-1400.
HARRY HOPKINS (1890-1946): A STUDY IN GIFTED LEADERSHIP BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS
CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF THE HUMANITIES IN THE SCHOOLS
Recently, I read a biography about one of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's closest advisers and confidants. This book, Roosevelt and Hopkins (1948), was written by the Pulitzer Prize winning dramatist and author, Robert E. Sherwood. Despite one's particular opinion about Roosevelt, it is universally accepted that he was one of the major leaders of the 20th century. He served the United States as Chief Executive during two major crises -- the economic depression of the 1930s and World War II of the 1940s. He was able to attract managers to his administration who were collaborative and gifted leaders.
Harry Hopkins, who reached the pinnacle of his career before he was 50 years old, was an example of this collaborative giftedness. His ability to manage large organizations was recognized in his early twenties when he was appointed one of the directors of the New York Tuberculosis Society. Ten years later, in his early thirties, he worked for Governor Roosevelt as director of the New York State Temporary Relief Administration. In the 1930s, he was in charge of administrating the national relief programs of the New Deal. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was representative of Hopkin's genius for leadership. He was more than a mere manager for distributing funds, as he conveyed through his dynamic leadership style, the vision and commitment to human potential. It was not mere daily sustenance that Hopkins tried to respond to. Rather, he sought to rehabilitate and stimulate the psychological and spiritual aspects of the individuals who received grants and awards. As part of his work at the national level, Hopkins was able to identify politicians who had exceptional leadership and managerial skills such as two future presidents of the United States -- Harry S. Truman and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Hopkins was also President Roosevelt's emissary to Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin during World War II. Although these two political leaders represented divergent concepts of government, Hopkins successfully helped them to form an alliance for attaining a common goal, the defeat of Nazi Germany.
This biography was subtitled, An Intimate History. It is a study of the collaboration of gifted individuals who were able to successfully make the transition from managers to leaders. This involves the character trait of synthesizing the short term needs of micro management with the long term goals of macro management. Winston Churchill praised Hopkins during an international conference by saying he would knight him, "Lord Root-of-the-Matter."
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, April-May 1997