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Apollo Syndrome was coined by Dr Meredith Belbin and describes the phenomenon in which teams of highly capable individuals perform poorly as a collective. Whilst counter-intuitive, I’m sure many of you can think of examples where you’ve seen this happen (the first that comes to my mind is NBA All-Star teams). I should clarify, by badly I mean with a lack of synergy (they perform worse than they should given their individual talents).

There are many reasons for this phenomenon and I’m sure the brighter of you all can come up with a few yourself just by thinking about it. Belbin specifically noted the following flaws in Apollo teams:

  • Excessive time spent in abortive or destructive debate in which members try to persuade others to adopt their own point of view, and demonstrating a flair for spotting weaknesses in others’ arguments (the latter part is such a good description of me).
  • Difficulties faced in decision making and decisions that were reached displayed incoherence and were somewhat inconsistent.
  • Members tended to act individually without taking into account what other members were doing, making the team difficult to manage.
  • Members recognised what was happening but overcompensated by avoiding confrontation, which equally added to problems.

These are somewhat axiomatic – now that I’ve listed them to you, you’re probably thinking it makes a lot of sense. Apollo teams do work though, and in understanding their failings you can help maximise their benefits.

In general, successful Apollo teams lacked highly dominant individuals and had a particular style of leadership. As with all relationships, some sort of compromise must be available so that everyone is kept in line.

The overarching theme of Belbin’s work relates to the concept of synergy. You’re all probably aware of what synergy is but in practice, most people will choose raw “stats” (of an individual) over how well they fit into the team. I guess the lesson to take from here is to consider each person’s ability to contribute, not how qualified each person is by themselves.

What’s interesting is this also displays the tendency for “Alpha males” to butt heads. This is an evolutionary remnant of our primal selves, so I find it quaint that it still exists in so many forms in contemporary society. However, I do have a conflicting theory that I may mention in a later post.

Apparently, Apollo Syndrome has evolved to be used as a term to describe the condition of a person having an overly important view of their own role within a team.

The negative synergy that is a result of Apollo teams is often characterised as a “Deadly Embrace”, a computing term in which two programs will prevent each other from making progress. The most common example is when two programs take exclusive control of a particular file, and then try to gain access to the other file. Each program will refuse to relinquish their own file and wait for the other to release their’s – therefore nothing ever happens. Applying this to human teams can be quite an apt analogy.

As interesting as this is as a little tip and a bit of extra knowledge, you might not see much relevance of this to your daily lives. In that case, I would encourage you to read between the lines and apply the core principle to appropriate scenarios. Apollo Syndrome is often taught in management courses (that’s where I learned it from – a management course at my university) and does in fact have relevance and impact. It’s not just another funny little theory that nobody pays attention to – it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

 

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I remember this was indirectly brought up somewhere (possibly on one of the writing forums I frequent). Personally, I’m an intuitive writer. I don’t plan beforehand, nor intentionally create symbolism; I just let the story unfold in my mind and tell it how it is. However, an understanding of writing techniques and features (as well as how they can be used effectively) allows for a subconscious/conscious (depending on what kind of writer you are) influence on your writing ability.

This post is about characters. Now, there’s a lot to characters. In certain story types, they are the driver of events. They are also the hub of activity, the unforgettable personality and the wishful self-insert. This post will focus on the role of the character(s).

Let me elaborate. Every character has to have some sort of personality (or it’s just a boring, two-dimensional name that gets thrown around in a story). There are two ways to achieve personality. The first (my favourite and the one I excel at) is the deep, complex personality that encompasses a wide scope of emotions and growth. The second is a personality that accentuates certain personality traits. While it would seem the former is the better choice, the latter is the one that is used most frequently, particularly in visual media (TV, films, etc.).

Let’s look at an example to make sense of what I’m saying. Take The Big Bang Theory, for example. Obviously, each character is a “person” with a wide range of emotions, but did you ever stop to think what their main role as a character is? Howard is the sexually frustrated, Rajesh is the inability to talk to women, Sheldon is the quirky smart and full of facts, and Leonard is the all-rounder who finds himself caught on that one special girl. Sound familiar? Each one of these characters represent a part of most people (guys). Because of this setup, the audience always has somebody to relate to – and this relation is important. Imagine, instead, that the entire cast was four Sheldons. Pure, obnoxious, in-your-face intelligent, and nobody to call him out on the weird stuff he does. Well, it would be a weird show. The audience would sit there and listen to a list of facts and snide remarks. Definitely not a successful formula.

Now think of any other TV show and I guarantee that you could do the same thing – identify a certain characteristic that is personified by one character.

So, what does this tell us? First, and most important, (good) characters must have something about them that the audience can relate to. If one single character doesn’t have it, then somewhere in the cast there has to be at least one that serves as a reference point. This reference point is what we judge everything by and what enables us to make sense of what’s occurring in the story. Without a reference point, the entire story is just an alien series of events with unintelligible interactions between strangers. The reason why option two (a full cast with each character personifying some personality trait) is more popular is because it’s much easier to pull off. When you get tired of one aspect, you can instantly reconnect with another. No one wants to hear complaints about how they can’t get girls all day, so when we’ve had enough of that, the story switches to something else. When you try to do this with option one (a single main character with a personality so complex that it can only be labelled “realistic”) you need to find that perfect balance between every aspect of the character’s personality. Further, it is very difficult to focus on more than a few main themes, so you tend to be limited towards some sort of overarching moral. If you do go for this method, the good ones to focus on are the ones that never fail to please society (perseverance under pressure, underdog story, selfless heroics, etc.).

Growth is another thing entirely. It’s very difficult to capture effectively and I wouldn’t recommend it to amateurs. I may do a post on it in the future.

So, what should you take away from this? Just keep in mind that your characters can’t just be super-perfect-overpowered (like a Mary/Gary Sue), nor can they just be a collection of “cool” one-liners and two-dimensional reactions to their surroundings. They need something about them that the audience can relate to – a reference point – and they need to assume a role (some aspect of the human psyche).

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