The Secret Ingredient to Accelerating Innovation
August, 2010 by Robert Porter Lynch Copyright 2010
Most companies today want people who will innovate collaboratively. In the fast- moving, rapidly changing world we live in today, collaborative innovation is the most sustainable source of competitive advantage a company can have.
But innovation doesn’t come easily, as many companies have found. All-too-often they espouse innovation, yet get the “same-old, same old.”
Why is innovation so difficult to sustain? One reason is because all innovation comes from differentials in thinking. If everyone thinks alike, there is no creative tension, thus no innovation. This is the essence of an innovative organization – one that keeps those differences from devolving into arrogance, insularity, and ego battles arising when the drive to defend past actions and current runs rampant.
And this is where the difficulty begins – people who don’t trust each other get caught up protecting their egos and their turf. They take refuge in their silos and with their peer group of specialists. From these defensive positions, they start finding fault with others who don’t think like them. Engineers blame the development guys. Marketing gets upset with finance for being bean counters. Sales says engineering is creating the product they can sell. Everyone forgets about the customer.
Respect for differences in thinking is critical to getting people to ask the tough question about how to innovate collaboratively.
The second reason why innovation is not sustained in companies is based on the illusion that innovation comes from the lone inventor. Nothing can be farther from the truth. With the exception of a few people like Nicoli Tesla, nearly all invention in the last 100 years has been a collaborative effort. In other words, innovation is a team sport.
Innovation comes from cross-pollinating ideas from one arena, specialty, or person to another. Ideas are electric, and thus will flow only if there is a conductive pathway between minds. Close the mind, and close off the flow of creativity. Those who trust each other are far more likely to have an open mind; distrust is threatening, and innovation becomes blocked.
Einstein observed that the most important question for any person to ask: “Is the universe a friendly place?” For if one’s universe, the world that surrounds us is hostile and threatening, then we cannot trust our environment, and we close off all creativity (this is what happened in the Dark Ages). Einstein stated: “Creativity is more important than knowledge.”
Creativity is the natural state of being of most humans. Just observe a four-year-old. They are always asking questions as they construct their understanding of the universe around them. This age is also the time of our lives when we trust the world around us.
Building an innovation capacity within your company will also require people to ask tough questions, to challenge the status quo, to be contrarians. If people are disrespectful in their challenges, they will not build the collaborative networks required to enable the generation of ideas and the transformation of those ideas into prototypes and products. Dishonoring others will only result in the collapse of collaboration.
It's imperative that innovators today know how to establish a "trust system" that enables collaborators to act honorably with each other, that makes intellectual property safe from incursions, that establishes joint principles of engagement, and that honors the differentials in thinking that stimulates the creative energy so fundamental to all innovation.
Robert Porter Lynch