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Generating great ideas

In the previous two articles I focused on innovation culture, specifically making the case for the co-existence of “run the business” and “change the business” activities in the organisation; and the link between trust and innovation.  
Innovation has two distinctive stages, there is the front-end, the idea generation stage; and the back-end, the implementation of the ideas.  There are a lot of terms for these two stages, and there are now wrongs or rights in this regard, I usually refer to it as ideation and implementation.  I want to first focus on the ideation stage.  This is the fun part of innovation, or the “sexy” part as Jeffrey Baumgartner refers to it.  In this article, I want to address a specific organisational matter regarding the generation of great ideas.

Ideation is a team sport
I don’t know who still remember the TV character MacGyver? Well, he is probably the biggest influence in terms of why I am so interested and passionate about innovation!  MacGyver always got stuck in these “impossible to get out of” situations, and then he came up with a brilliant idea or invention (usually involving explosives…) to resolve the challenge and save the day.  So, I think there is a small MacGyver in each of us, there are few things so exiting as coming up with a great solution to a specific challenge, or coming up with the “million dollar idea” to exploit a previously unnoticed opportunity and take your organisation to the next level. The reality, however, is that when an organisation launches an innovation initiative and the people are now challenged to come up with great ideas, the complaint that usually surfaces is that “we only received mediocre and ‘me too’ ideas”, while the expectation was that some creative genius will come up with a brilliant idea.   I want to bust a big myth regarding creativity here. Tanner Christensen describes it best as he refers to how often do we imagine creative geniuses, sitting alone, contemplating the next big thing? If you think of nearly any creative great, this is likely how you’re going to imagine them. It’s not difficult to imagine the likes of Steve Jobs, Pablo Picasso or Thomas Edison in these moments of deep insight or masterful work. It’s also easy to imagine these masters in these moments entirely alone. When we imagine these thinkers like this – working by themselves – we create a scenario around creativity that isn’t entirely true.

This belief can hurt our own ability to achieve creative mastery.  The greatest creatives hardly ever work alone. If you think you can go alone on the path to ideas that matter, it’s time to think again.  Christensen references a research report by Montuori and Purser titled “Deconstructing the Lone Genius Myth,” where they explored the psychological and social-economic reasons why the myth of the lone genius persists, and what matters for generating truly great ideas.  Their research found: “Creativity takes place in groups, organizations, and societies…and can be sparked by interactions…we believe this does not diminish the role of the individual in the least, but rather addresses more fully the concern of individuals and the contexts in which they have to operate – contexts that are, after all, also composed to a large extent of other individuals.”  So the key here is that idea generation must be a collaborative exercise.  Creativity is the combination of existing concepts to form a new concept, and as soon as people start discussing ideas and sharing information, new connections are made and the idea evolves and becomes bigger and better. To truly be a creative genius, then, we must embrace working alongside others. Not all the time, but often. It’s through our interactions that our best ideas swell.

Next Time
Creativity and idea generation is – and should be – fun, but it is also something at organisations can get better at if they work on it, hone their ideations skills and make it a team effort.  Next time, I will look at some group techniques for generating breakthrough ideas.  It would just be appropriate for me to conclude with a quote from MacGyver: “Another day, a whole ‘nother set of fresh possibilities”.
Christensen, T. 2014. There is no lone creative genius. Online:

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