When it comes to innovation, organizations sometime think there can be a “magic formula” that can propel them from good to great or transform them from a middling player in the marketplace to the market leader. Sure – it would be great if every organization was helmed by a Steve Jobs or a Marc Zuckerberg…people who absolutely see ahead of the curve and have the relentless drive to build to their vision and innovative ideas.
The Harvard Business Review recently came out with an article that pointed to this kind of thinker…one who thinks differently in its profile of Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregerson’s work, The Innovator’s DNA…as a recognizable (and unique) phenomenon.
However…most organizations are a collection of bright, talented people who need to work together to create a collective wisdom. Luckily, HBR’s article, while pointing out that certain people are in effect wired for innovative leadership and thinking, did underscore the point that it can be a learned and practiced effect.
We can all be innovative leaders…and we are all different thinkers!
It is an incredible amount of work though, to get into a conceptual framework and outside-the-box mentality that Dyer and Gregerson’s research hones in on. So how can an organization tackle this challenge?
First think about this fact stated in the Harvard article: While roughly one-third of anyone’s innovation capacity comes from their genetic endowment, two-thirds of it is still driven by the environment.
Sounds daunting, but I don’t see 1/3 of our abilities already made up…instead I see that a much greater percentage of our capacity for innovation comes from the environment and people around us. By bringing in people who think differently than we do, we’re instantly creating a greater ability to think differently.
And as we just found out: Thinking Differently = Greater Innovation
Building teams based on collaboration and different thinking is part of the solution.
Think about how a person who is not genetically predisposed for lots of Conceptual Thinking can approach a problem…they may look more to the left-brained approach of “Why – what are the logics” and “How – What are the steps to get this done efficiently” than connecting new ideas in a traditionally “innovative” sense.
But…combine that tendency with someone who truly does look at the world via the conceptual framework and you’ve got potentially groundbreaking, off-the-wall ideas that are instantaneously filtered through a system for completion.
It’s about giving ideas legs…and making them implementable and organized.
What about adding a person in who exhibits a more driving behavior to take charge on pushing the ideas forward…and another person to think differently about who should be involved and how the innovation will affect others…and another person to ensure that the plan is on track and defined…and another person who brings an openness to changing midcourse for better iterations and suggestions.
You get the idea…the more diverse people you bring in—i.e., the more diverse environment you can create—the higher the innovation potential you can realize.
The sociability of innovation has been trumpeted before; according to A.G. Lafley and Ram Charan in their book, The Game-Changer: “Innovation is a social process. And this process can only happen when people do that simple, profound thing—connect to share problems, opportunities, and learning.”
An article in Business Week, Fashioning Innovation via Conversation, highlights management leader Peter Drucker’s approach to maximizing innovation by harnessing conversation, stating that more purposeful dialogue and connection could drive innovation by uncovering opportunities, or as Drucker puts it, “the task of giving human and material resources new and greater wealth-producing capacity.”
With this emphasis on collaboration, it is both the process of connecting with others to bring new ideas and the results of diverse connections that yield the different forms of ideas that create true innovation. It’s certainly not easy, but the formula is there:
Build teams. Highlight collaborative differences. Foster innovation.
Mark E. Miller is the Director of Marketing for Emergenetics International – an organizational development consulting company dedicated to expanding the capabilities of the one thing most valuable to every one of our clients – their people. Follow us on Twitter.