Almost all of the recent books, blogs, and papers supporting innovation highlight the importance of collaboration. Why? For many years, the sole inventor was told that people working together can lead to groupthink — too much consensus and convergent thinking. While these ideas have reason, they can easily be overcome. Collaboration is a central theme to innovation because of
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First, collaboration increases the chances of ASSOCIATIONS between ideas that result in an innovative combination.
The European Journal for High Ability references the Scientific Genius by Dean Keith Simonton, where he says “gifted products involve productions of a large number of associations, more or less randomly or blindly, and the chance occurrence of ‘configurations’—happy combinations that represent just what is needed to solve the problem in question. The gifted achiever is especially good not only at producing associations, but also at recognizing that a configuration has occurred, and grasping that it offers a solution.”
While the above quote references a gifted achiever, it is relevant to groups because the more people involved, the larger number of associations will be made from different perspectives. The inventor may not even originate the idea, but he might combine his half idea with another’s idea to realize an innovative “configuration.” To say it in other words, our half ideas associated with others’ half ideas can make whole innovative ideas.
Second, collaborative feedback SPEEDs up the necessary iterations
An innovative solution is often a combination of ideas, from conception to delivery. Robert Weisberg, creativity expert and author of Creativity: Understanding Innovation in Problem Solving, Science, Invention, and the Arts studied famous creators and suggested that creative production results from “chains” of connected ideas that flesh out the original thinking. Collaboration with others can speed up the chains of connected ideas that result in something innovative. Speed is the last great competitive advantage, so if you want to deliver something fresh, speed is crucial to delivering innovation before others do. Having open-minded people around you can quickly validate whether the idea will have merit and help build upon that idea…and alternatively, they can help you save time by burning through bad ideas.
Third, Collaboration results in more CONNECTIONS with people who can help push a good idea forward.
Successful innovation involves more than a great idea. Even if it’s groundbreaking, you need to promote the idea so that others adopt or buy into it. You might need capital. You might need partners. You need great people to help execute the idea. Collaboration with others expands your social circle of connections to make things happen.
Fourth, Teams provide ENERGY and help overcome the expected resistance
New ideas are often borne into a hostile environment and a team of people can provide the support to push through the hierarchies of inertia. If you are employed, good ideas not invented by management can be seen as a threat, thus, having a group helps push through the expected resistance and doubt. Team feedback can also provide energy to keep each other going through periods of unknown outcomes.
Finally, collaboration helps ideas reach IMPLEMENTATION
Innovation results from implementation of a complete solution or idea. There are a million good ideas floating around in the creative genius of the world that will never get implemented because most people are tied to their paychecks and family obligations and can’t afford the risk. All of the aforementioned reasons contribute to helping an innovative solution reach implementation.
While collaboration is key to innovation, convergent thinking is still a risk. The best way to overcome this is to incorporate diversity into the group and to let individuals do a combination of individual and group work.
Because being on the edge of innovation can bring rejection from the populous and loneliness, you need to collaborate with others that are open-minded or share a similar vision. Entrepreneurship should no longer mean that you have to “go it alone.” Collaborating with others is easy in the 21st century (you can start today online) and it is key to your innovation success by providing the associations, speed, connections, and energy necessary for implementation. If there is no implementation, there is no innovation.
What are other reasons why collaboration contributes to innovation? Do you agree with my reasoning above? Why or why not?