Collaboration Equals Innovation


This week I read an interesting piece by Andy Zinga in the Harvard Business Review titled “A Social Brain Is a Smarter Brain.”  . As an unrepentant extrovert, the title was immediately validating. The author asserts that social interaction is not only good for maintaining higher level mental functioning, but in fact may help drive meaningful innovation. I wanted to explore this idea.

 Benefits of Collaboration

Zinga writes, “Open innovation projects (where organizations facing tricky problems invite outsiders to take a crack at solving them) always present cognitive challenges…But they also force new, boundary-spanning human interactions and fresh perspective-taking. They require people to reach out to other people, and thus foster social interaction.” He quotes two studies that found that the social process that facilitated the collaboration between two organizations were determining factors in the project’s success Interestingly, one of the studies showed that the broader benefits of the multidisciplinary social interaction outweigh the concrete results of getting specific solutions That might be a tough sell to the business owner. Boss, we didn’t close the deal. But the good news is we sure found the collaboration exciting.

Empowering Your People

As the Big Omaha conference on innovation concludes today, one of the recurring themes is innovation through collaboration. Many speakers emphasize the importance of knowledge sharing, community building and honoring alternative viewpoints as way to ensure you’re playing devil’s advocate to your business model and thinking from all sides. All of this requires frequent communication and social interaction. I am finding this to be true for one of our mobile apps, Action Card . The customers who currently use Action Card for conducting field compliance reviews have typically sought consultation from us and feedback from the various members of their teams who use the app in one way or the other. Most of the features built into it have been based on client suggestions. Operations Directors and business owners who realize the greatest utility have one thing in common. They created an open environment that empowered people to offer their opinions. When I sit in groups with these people or on conference calls, I can predict who our most successful clients will be by the number of people who contribute.

In my past life I taught sixth graders in Oakland California. The disparate learning levels and abilities made lesson planning extremely challenging. One of my more successful teaching methods for introducing literary concepts and discussing stories was through groups. A concept called “story mapping” that L learned through a workshop at The Bay Area Writing Project was critical. The kids collaborated to illustrate scenes from the literature, write new vocabulary words and concepts. The collaboration pulled all of them in and played off of their individual strengths. They helped teach each other. Are we doing enough problem solving and innovation through interaction in our business?.