Monday, December 21, 2009

Not a solo sport

Looking for new ideas? It's not a solo sport. If you expect individuals to come up with fully-fledged, ground-breaking ideas on their own, you could die waiting. Provide opportunities for people to spend time together and combine their thinking.

Great ideas start with a glimmer; if that glimmer is shared it might become a spark that ignites.

If you expect individuals to present their ideas to you in the form of a business case, fully developed and costed, you will not receive very many ideas, and the ones you do receive will not be particularly innovative.

I was asked to judge an innovation competition run by a law firm in my city. The firm offered generous prizes such as cash and travel, and allowed the staff to take time off work to write their submissions. Although the applications were well written, the suggestions were very disappointing in their lack of creativity, e.g. “Hold a cocktail party for accountants”. Competing as individuals for valuable rewards, the lawyers played it safe. They offered ideas that they knew had been successful elsewhere. But you don’t get competitive advantage by copying what others have done.

Researchers have shown that people who have an intrinsic interest in the issue are more likely to come up with good ideas than people who are just trying to win prizes.

People who are good at developing a business case are not always the ones with the most innovative ideas. These are different skills, so you need a team effort.

Collective thinking is more powerful than an individual effort. Provide opportunities for people to share their thinking and build ideas collaboratively.

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