How can organisations foster innovation and collaboration at their workplace? Frans Johansson explains.
George W. Bush is re-elected as U.S. president, Ireland becomes the first country in the world to ban smoking in pubs, and a student named Mark Zuckerberg launches a social network at Harvard University. These reports from 2004 seem like ancient history. But a book that appeared that same year is still highly topical today. In it, a Swedish-American graduate of Harvard Business School described how new ideas emerge from the combination of different disciplines, perspectives and cultures.
He called this phenomenon the "Medici effect" in reference to the Medici dynasty, which brought together creative people from the arts, architecture, engineering and finance in Florence in the 15th century, creating a European center of innovation. The book became a bestseller and its author, Frans Johansson, a sought-after innovation guru. Today he advises organizations such as Disney, Nike and the U.S. Navy on how to foster creativity among their employees. In the process, he has gained insight into many different companies – and learned even more about how innovation is created.
Author and Innovation Expert Frans Johansson.
In a conversation recorded for the ada | fellowship, he talked about the secret of successful ideas and pointed out seven ways particularly innovative organizations differ from others:
1. They prioritize diversity.
Innovative teams know that every new idea is basically a combination of existing ideas, so they bring together as many different people with different backgrounds and perspectives as possible – creating the Medici effect in the workplace.
2. They don't care about logic.
The idea still dominates that deep expertise and the rational analysis of a problem will eventually lead to success. "If you believe that logic is your competitive advantage, then you would have to believe that your competitors don't have access to logic," says Johansson. But that's not the case. If everyone does it this way, everyone will arrive at the same logical solution. To stand out and really make a difference, you need unusual ideas.
3. They say goodbye to Return on Investment as a guiding principle.
Johansson explains the departure from "normal" logic with an example: When presented with ten ideas, many CEOs opt for the one that promises the most return on investment. In so doing they are pursuing a logical goal (see point 2). Innovative teams replace return on investment with other criteria such as curiosity or excitement: Which idea triggers the most enthusiasm? Which is the most uncomfortable? It may be the right one.
4. They learn by doing.
If you think very carefully about what the next step might be, you may miss taking it. So it's important to try out ideas in real life, with real customers, then analyze afterwards what worked and what didn't. These experiments should happen with high frequency, Johansson says: "If one attempt fails, try something else. If it works, pounce on it."
5. They set an achievable goal.
"Someone needs to stake out what direction the team is headed and why," Johansson says. To reach the long-term goal, teams try different paths (see point 4!) and allow for some detours, dead ends and restarts. No one enjoys failure, but those who see it as a temporary setback on the road to success perceive it as less bad.
6. They don't put all their eggs in one basket.
When experimenting, innovative teams ask themselves the question: Measured against the resources available to us – time, money, personnel – how often can we be wrong? If the answer is "preferably not at all," they are in a difficult position. So they reduce the amount of resources per experiment. When an experiment fails, they don't lose several months, but at most two or three weeks.
7. They perceive videoconferencing not as a curse, but as a blessing.
Virtual meetings are quicker to implement and more inclusive. You can add people who might not be able to attend a real meeting. This increases the diversity of perspectives. And no one sits at the head of the table or provokes others with their clothing or appearance. Everyone is equal in front of the camera.
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