Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Group Genius and the genesis of ideas

To continue the Book Review post below of Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration, here are the 10 factors that Sawyer suggests enable Group Flow:

1) Group has a well-understood goal

2) They engage in close listening

3) People have complete concentration

4) Being in control – having a sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness

5) Blending egos – working collaboratively not competitively

6) Equal participation, informed by comparable skill levels

7) Familiarity with performance styles of other group members

8) Communication that’s spontaneous and ongoing (i.e. cafĂ©/lunchroom talks)

9) Use “Yes, and…” thinking to accept offers and extend and build on them

10) The potential for failure and the value of rehearsals

And in answer to the question, “what is the best balance of planning and improvisation?” Sawyer devotes a chapter to “Organizing for Improvisation,” where he offers another top-ten list of the secrets of collaborative organizations:

1) Keep many irons in the fire – innovative companies experiment with lots of low-cost projects on the go, responding to what emerges

2) Create a Department of Surprise – look for ways to repurpose apparently failed experiments by finding them a home elsewhere in the organization

3) Build space for creative conversation – more on this below

4) Allow time for ideas to emerge – deadlines amp up stress and kill creativity; you can’t rush creativity because it needs incubation time

5) Manage the risks of improvisation – define the right amount of time taken away from other projects, the sheer number of ideas generated and balance with the need for structure and planning

6) Improvise at the edge of chaos – not too rigid to prevent creative emergence, not too loose as to results in complete chaos

7) Manage knowledge for innovation – capture the innovations that emerge improvisationally and make sure other parts of the organization can benefit from the creative sparks

8) Build dense networks – keep groups small enough to effectively interact, ca. 150-200 people (the size of the earliest human societies, and still the ideal size of group to effectively manage changes, including those required in creative processes)

9) Ditch the org chart – break down the silos and get people working across business units to cross-pollinate ideas and discover latent creative forces

10) Measure the right things – instead of spend on R&D or number of patents registered, measure the health of your social networks in the organization to find out just how well people are interacting and how well information is diffused.

I would flesh out a couple of these points in particular as follows. On point #3 (building space for creative conversation), it’s absolutely crucial if you expect people to be creative that you give them an environment that says to the brain: “it’s OK to be creative here”. As an example, Google got this right in their Zurich office design. As the waggish final slide suggests, creativity rarely emerges from cubicle farms.

One other idea that I think is worth highlighting from the list is a combination of points 2, 7, 8, 9 and 10 – the concept that innovative solutions created in one part of an organization can have unexpected and novel applications in other areas to solve problems that would otherwise go unsolved. To put it in a wider context: When I interviewed the Dutch cross-cultural business thinker Fons Trompenaars he pointed out that a surprisingly large number of innovations come from other countries and only appear new because no one ever thought to view things quite that way before. One of the best examples I've seen lately of this kind of innovation came from author Dan Pink, who's understood the lesson well with his latest book, Johnny Bunko published in the manga format popularized in Japan, a first in the English-speaking world and a product perfectly pitched for a the meaning-hungry Gen-Y market:

Johnny Bunko trailer from Daniel Pink on Vimeo.

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