Top-Shelf Tip No. 174:

"No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it."

H.E. Luccock

Tips To Build A Culture Of Collaborative Innovation

Are you tapping into your team's collective intelligence? Organizations can be smarter than the sum of their members' intelligence and talent, but most fall short. Kate Isaacs, a research affiliate at the MIT Leadership Center and Deborah Ancona, founder of the MIT Leadership Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, say that organizations can create a culture of collaborative innovation by taking a few practical steps. We explore their suggestions in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.

1. Create tools that allow everyone to communicate strategically about innovation. Good ideas can come from all corners of a company, but would-be innovators may need help developing a strong strategic argument. Isaacs and Ancona recommend using a set of simple questions called the Heilmeier Catechism (named after a former director), to think through and evaluate proposed research programs. Consider these questions:

  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
  • How is it done today and what are the limits of current practice?
  • What is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the mid-term and final "exams" that will allow you to measure success?

    2. Vet and refine ideas collectively and continuously. In nimble organizations, innovation ideas aren't reviewed once or twice a year by a senior committee. Instead they undergo a constant process of review, refinement and—if necessary—death. The goal is for only the best ideas to survive. Isaacs and Ancona say that guidelines make it easier for everyone to judge the value of new innovations and avoid large, bad bets on relatively untested ideas. Senior leaders periodically review the portfolio of project ideas that are bubbling up and knit them together, using their knowledge of organizational capabilities and market/technology trends to create organizational strategy.

    3. Bust through barriers that block innovation. Most organizations have regular procedures for leaders to determine which new projects should get funded and who will be assigned to these initiatives. But at nimble organizations, Isaacs and Ancona say that leadership is flipped upside down. The job of top leaders is to serve people who are close to the market. They do whatever they can to clear the way for promising new projects and get innovation teams the resources they need, say Isaacs and Ancona.

    Try using these practices to harness the energy and insights of your team. By doing so, you can aggregate the intelligence of your workers to predict future success and act to make that future real.

    Compiled by Audrey Sellers

    Source: Kate Isaacs is a research affiliate at the MIT Leadership Center, a partner at Dialogos Generative Capital and an Executive Fellow at the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership. Deborah Ancona is the Seley Distinguished Professor of Management, a professor of organization studies and the founder of the MIT Leadership Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.

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