(Originally posted on The Innovation Workgroup’s LinkedIn page, 28th April, 2015)
If you saw your subordinates sitting around having a long conversation, what would you do? Many of us would quickly shout, “Stop wasting time! Get back to work!” The linked article suggests that this very natural response might be misguided.
The essence of innovation is making connections. We like to say that in business, innovation means combining existing elements in new ways to create value for customers. Successful innovators have a large collection of elements stored in their memory banks, and they eagerly observe and listen to others in search of new knowledge that they can apply to problems and opportunities.
Moreover, Jungian personality theory says that “extraverts” (as many as 75% of the population) prefer to focus their thinking externally. I’m an extravert, though a mild one, and I do my best thinking by bouncing my ideas off others. It’s usually easier and more effective for me to examine and test my ideas after I put them out in the world, as opposed to simply turning them over in my mind. Also, the feedback that I get from others is often essential in developing my thoughts.
In the workplace, we often encourage our staff to leave others alone and focus on their own work. I wonder how much of this comes from our schooling. As one wise observer has said, when people work on a problem together in business, it’s called teamwork. When they work on a problem together in school, it’s called cheating.
The moral of the story? If you want innovation, give people a chance to discuss their work and kick around their ideas together. One suggestion is to organize group brainstorming sessions to address any challenges you may face. Another is to hold an “open space meeting.” (If you’d like to hold one in your company, we can help.) At a bare minimum, have a little patience when your employees feel the need to flap their jaws for a while. As with the individuals described in the linked article, there’s no telling what great things may come from such a conversation!
Your comments, questions and suggestions are most welcome. Please add them below.
Additional reading on this topic: How The Future Is Really Built