Collaboration for InnovationJune 24, 2010 Leave a comment
“Collaboration drives creativity because innovation emerges from a series of sparks – not a single flash of insight.”
– Keith Sawyer, Group Genius
Having last week blogged about when we might want to de-emphasize innovation and think about the small steps we can take towards change, today I embrace the “i word.” In doing so, I tip my hat to Keith Sawyer and to my Interaction colleague Andy Atkins for helping to clarify my thinking around the connection between collaboration and innovation for social change. Both are obviously quite popular concepts at the moment, and there is some discussion about how well they go together. For example, one of my colleagues had a conversation with a corporate leader last week during which this leader shared his deep belief that collaboration inhibits creativity and that flashes of insight occur in the individual’s mind. While the last part of that statement may be true, what leads to that flash and where one goes with it would seem to have everything to do with interaction with others.
It certainly is true that collaboration can bog down the creative process. I’m sure we’ve all had those painful and deadening experiences. On the other hand, we have probably also had those moments of group “flow” during which amazing things happened. The question is, how can we create the conditions that allow for such innovative moments to occur?
As Mr. Sawyer and my IA colleagues have noted, research shows that innovation has certain qualities, and that collaboration can be a nurturer of these. Below are five of these qualities, along with some key questions for a collaborative effort/team to consider (thanks, Andy):
1. Iterative and Integrative – ideas build on each other over time.
- Can we truly listen to one another’s ideas?
- Are we willing to be influenced by one another’s ideas?
2. Born out of diversity – breakthrough ideas come out of differences of opinion and experience.
- Can we have inclusive conversations?
- Can we work with conflict, and ultimately build agreement?
3. Unpredictable and inefficient – a team may not know which ideas will ultimately be the breakthrough ones.
- Can we tolerate ambiguity?
- Can we facilitate a process of emergence over time?
4. Requires Flexibility – a team must be able to try a variety of things to give rise to innovation.
- Can we tolerate failure? (Can we be about improving over proving?)
- Can we adjust plans and processes as needed?
5. Requires Trust – innovation requires an environment where people can trust one another.
- Are we willing to let go of ownership and share responsibility for success?
- Are we willing to ask for help and respond to requests for assistance?
All of these questions connect with key and core collaborative competencies, from establishing guiding norms to creative listening to structuring and facilitating conversations in appropriate ways. And I’m wondering what you would add and/or highlight as being particularly useful in your experience.