There seems to be a commonly held misconception that brilliant invention and innovation all comes from individuals’ ‘lightbulb’ moments. While of course there are examples where this is true, in general it’s fallacy. Brilliant ideas are not put on the table by brilliant people for others to gasp in awe at, but are taken from the table after much blood, sweat and tears shed by teams and not individuals. And the interesting thing is, the secret ingredient is disagreement!
So let’s first look at the individual over the team issue. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, he made incremental improvements on the design by Joseph Swan. In all honesty, it doesn’t stop there because Swan was only continuing the work of Nicola Tesla, Humphry Davey, Warren de la Rue, William Staite and probably of host of others that never even get a mention. Robert Oppenheimer didn’t invent the atomic bomb. He helped for sure, but as Scientific Director of the Manhattan Project, for many people he was the inventor and not just a member of a huge international team of experts. Its usually teams that create great things, not individuals. ‘I know that’ you say, ‘collaboration is key’. But it’s not just collaboration.
What about this idea that disagreement is good? Brilliant ideas do not get put on the table. Good ideas do. They get combined with other good ideas to produce a brilliant idea. Ideas need to be viewed from many different angles to find ways to improve and evolve them, and to do this well takes a number of different types of minds and thought processes. Diversity of thought process is key here, and this is the reason why Steve Jobs included artists and musicians in his design team for Apple Macintosh. We need to stimulate something we call ‘creative abrasion’. It’s like putting all the ideas in a bag and shaking them up. Some ideas turn to dust, others get their rough edges abraded away and a few end up coalescing into something bigger and better. If we all came to the table thinking along the same lines and supporting each other’s ideas because our thought processes were aligned, we certainly wouldn’t find that brilliant idea. We would have a well-polished, good idea and that’s just not what we are after. It’s actually worse than that! We gain confidence from hearing support from our likeminded thinking colleagues and can easily become convinced that we have something wonderful when in fact it’s only wonderful to us and not the big wide world.
So adding this all together, to come up with brilliant ideas we need the following. Firstly, several good ideas, some different way to look at them, an openness to challenge and a collaborative approach to bringing it all together into something special. That’s not easy and takes a lot of experimentation and practice.
At IndigoBlue, we are using this approach to harness our hundreds of years of Agile experience into creating something better for our clients tomorrow. We may not be making and shaping the world on the same scale as Robert Oppenheimer, but our work does make real differences to our clients. For example, with one client we are helping to create an Agile education programme to improve company awareness. Added to the mix of Agile techies will be marketing and HR professionals. They will not be able to contribute to the technical content, but the additional mind-sets of presentation creativity and people orientation will bring valuable insights and help us create something better.
Collaboration is key to the way we work, but to get something special we need to disagree sometimes. And that’s not just good, it’s brilliant!