Imagine sitting on a seesaw unaccompanied – you wouldn’t get very far. Some things, in fact we’d argue most things, are best shared. And it’s just the same here. ‘Innovation is not a solo sport’ says Hal B Gregersen, author of ‘The Innovator’s DNA’. So, in a world where innovation is king, how do we make sure it’s multi-player and touches every aspect of your Early Talent’s journey? It’s an age-old fallacy that you’re just born with some skills, but we disagree. It’s easy to attribute an innovation to natural talent, or even an ‘Aha Moment’ – like the apple that fell on Newton’s head to ‘spark relativity’ – but is there such a thing? What can you do to equip your team of innovation players to be winners at the sport? What skills should you be fostering to develop a creative environment where ideas can fuse for success?

  1. Get Colliding

Think for a moment if you will, on the environments we inhabit, each with its own sort of innovations: the scale of the world-wide web, the differentiators of each coffee shop, biological environments like the coral reef, the development and evolution of the first cities – each of these shows innovations, but what do they have in common?

Studies have shown that what all of these incredible creations have in common is the patterns; each example demonstrates a network of inter-related components that together generate innovation. We need to strengthen our own networks and associations. The more opportunities we have to collide ideas together, the more innovative we can be. Innovation is evidently not just a single entity but a network of associations and ideas fusing together to solve a problem. This pattern-making is a physical reaction in your brain too; your brain sends signals that are quite literally creating new combinations inside your head – so how do we increase the likelihood of these collisions to enable innovative thinking in Early Talent? They sound great, but how can you make them happen more?

  1. Observe, Observe, Observe

Well, it’s not all about those random ‘Eureka Moments’ – ideas rarely just come to you. One way these great ‘Aha Moments’ can be best encouraged, enhanced and increased is through observation. Waiting for an epiphany to suddenly solve the problem will not foster the right environment for innovation to flourish. Instead we must take steps to develop our approaches and practice the skills that allow innovation to develop. Observation is one such skill. By simply observing the world around us, we can make new associations and connections that facilitate innovation.

Take the monkeys, for example. There was a fruit plantation in South Africa where a man’s sole occupation was to observe to watch over and protect the crop. He noticed local monkeys were targeting one individual tree. He didn’t see this as a problem but when they kept returning he got curious. The monkeys were taking fruit that wasn’t ripe. ‘Why?’ he asked. So, the observant employee decided to try one of these un-ripened fruits and he was amazed to find it was the most delicious thing he’d tasted. He immediately shared this with his employer, and they learned that this one tree was ripened early, giving them the competitive edge as they could reproduce the characteristics of that tree to produce fruit before their competitors. By simply observing the behaviours of his local neighbours, the business could innovate new ways to produce their crop; yummy fruit for everyone! The point? Get observing. Observation is key to understanding the problems and creates innovation as a by-product. By collecting data through observation and measurement, your brains can feedback solutions and innovations.

  1. Stop, Collaborate…

With 39% of employees believing that people in their own organisations don’t collaborate enough , think how innovative businesses could become if everyone understood how to collaborate for innovation. One survey has found that 71% of respondents said they were more creative as part of a team . Sparking ideas with other people increased the opportunity for collaborative innovation. One particular investigation, led by Harvard professor Linda A. Hill , studied organisational creativity and innovation, finding that those magical ‘Aha Moments’ are best accomplished through cooperation. Professor Hill studied a diverse group of global leaders of innovation from different industries to discover where their secret to innovation resides. The study concluded that it is ‘collective genius’ that lies behind their successes. She suggests that there are three things we need to do to facilitate collaborative innovation:

#1 Be abrasive – create constructive arguments, with active listening where individuals advocate their point of view. Here, conflict is necessary to create a portfolio of ideas.

#2 Be agile – the ability to test and refine a portfolio of ideas; discovery driven by learning. It’s a series of experiments, not pilots.

#3 Be resolution-focused – you must combine ideas to find an effective solution, regardless of position, leaving egos outside of the room to focus on the team effort.

However even if the team can practice these behaviours, it may not be enough if there isn’t full commitment across the board.

  1. Get Committed

One of her best examples of complete commitment to innovation comes from observing Pixar, the animation organisation. Pixar co-founder, Ed Catmull, analysed Pixar’s innovation processes in his book, Creativity Inc., but it’s Professor Hill who attributes Pixar’s success to it’s iterative and messy processes that remove barriers of rank. In a Pixar ideation, everyone’s ideas are welcome and hierarchy and egos are left at the door. Pixar’s processes are full of little details that make a big difference to their success, allowing them to produce the magical cinematic experiences of ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Up’. In his book, Ed Catmull recalls his realisation that even the shape of their meeting room table impacted on their ideation process, purely because it facilitated hierarchical organisation and failed to create an environment where all levels could participate. Now Pixar never meet around a boardroom-style table; it’s all about the round table, and no more place names by rank. Of course, there will be false steps and multiple perspectives in the room, but with candour and resilience, innovation can come out on top.

So, if innovation can be considered a sport, then we should all start paying more attention to how we’re practicing, because “if you don’t practice, you don’t deserve to win” according to Andre Agassi. Making even the smallest changes throughout the business can facilitate more affective innovation. So, get colliding, observe more, and collaborate. Fuse networks together and think about the little details. How are you facilitating collaboration to encourage innovation? How are you conducting meetings? If you’re still sat round a long boardroom table, it’s time to re-evaluate.

By Colette Weston

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