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Building the Ability to Innovate

A version of this content appears in the Harvard Business Review - Collective Genius

Willingness is necessary but not sufficient for innovation to flourish. Organisations also need the ability to innovate. That requires developing three organizational capabilities:

for collaboration, creative abrasion, or the ability to generate ideas through discourse and debate; for discovery-driven learning, creative agility, or the ability to test and experiment through quick pursuit, reflection, and adjustment; and for integrative decision making, creative resolution, or the ability to make decisions that combine disparate and sometimes even opposing ideas.

Creative abrasion

The two ingredients necessary for creative abrasion are intellectual diversity and intellectual conflict. Diversity can be encouraged by allowing teams or members with fundamentally different approaches to move forward. While ensuring that conflict was productive through intense questions and challenges. Being sensitive to the drawbacks of bringing people together for debate too early or too often.

Organizations need to foster and incubate a plethora of informed opinions

Making sure that the review meetings are forums where ideas were put to the test. Questioning assumptions, honest discourse and rigorous debate should always be the goal. Being supportive, while knowing that in order for creative abrasion to occur, some confrontation had to be injected into the system.

Tip: Set certain clear expectations that teams would move forward through rigorous testing of ideas, and would respond to challenges and disagreement with objective data.

Creative agility

Creative agility essentially requires you to proceed through three phases that virtually all leaders encourage.

First, you would have to pursue new ideas quickly and proactively with multiple experiments. That involves some planning, but if much greater emphasis is placed on gathering data about how ideas actually worked.

Second, taking the time to reflect on and learn from the outcomes of those experiments. Reviewing and analysing your process and practice goes a long way towards polishing them.

Third, learning to adjust plans and actions on the basis of the results and to repeat the cycle incorporating this new knowledge—until a solution ultimately emerges or it becomes clear that the basic approach was not going to work.

Tip: Avoid giving direction and instead try to ask penetrating questions to “inject tension” and “intellectual reality” and to drive debate.

Creative agility involves quickly pursuing multiple experiments, learning from the outcomes, and then adjusting plans.

Creative resolution

It would be easy to make a decision when something failed completely or succeeded completely. The ambiguous issues are the hardest to deal with, and that was where a lot of the complexity and dimensions of impact would show up. You are constantly considering and reconsidering the issue at hand. Ultimately, a more conventional leader would stifle innovation in the face of complex issues.

Preserving harmony by muffling creative disagreement would limit the number of good options considered. Exercising discipline and control by marching the group to a predetermined solution would discourage the trial-and-error efforts that can lead to the best short- and long-term answers. And making choices early and often would prematurely shut down work that led to the most creative and thoughtful solutions.

Tip: Conduct regular review meetings “to force teams to assess their progress relative to their goals.”

Do you think there's other skills this article may have missed? Feel free to share them below



Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash

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