Cross-Pollinators and Idea Magnetism

“There’s magic in cross-pollination – and in the people who make it happen.”  -Tom Kelley via The Ten Faces of Innovation

We are living in a time when leadership requires not only the ability to connect dots, but to connect dots that are seemingly unrelated. The leaders who can do this will not only have an advantage, they will set the stage to allow more creativity and innovation to grow and flourish within their organizations.

For this to happen, leaders have to broaden their range, to essentially become idea magnets.  Drawing learning from a wide and diverse range of thinking and thinkers. Or, to become what Tom Kelley refers to in the Ten Faces of Innovation, as Cross-Pollinators.

According to Tom Kelley…

Cross-pollinators can create something new and better through the unexpected juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts.  They often innovate by discovering a clever solution in one context or industry, then translating it successfully to another.”

And it is not just in connecting those seemingly unrelated dots that invokes creativity and innovation, it is connecting them in a way where people think and say, “Why didn’t I see that?”

And yet, it is this same wide and diverse range of learning which can also make it difficult for others to understand or reside on the same page as cross-pollinators. Most often because they are drawing references and ideas from so many different disciplines and areas of thinking, many of which seem unrelated and far removed from the other.

Or, as Tom Kelley shares…

“Cross-pollinators stir up new ideas by exploring worlds that may at first glance seem to have little relevance to the problems at hand.”

Which means that cross-pollinators must not only have a diverse and wide range of interests and learning, but an ongoing flow and well of ideas from which to draw from. In order for cross-pollinators to connect dots, there must be dots from which to draw from.

Or as Tom Kelley relays…

“Give your team greater variety and they will start seeing the outlines of new connections, making new leaps of imagination.” 

And while organizations need all types, cross-pollinators have the ability to be real change makers and game-changers. They have the ability to bring together those ideas and dots that can upend and revolutionize the current level and way of thinking that exists in an organization.

It is in the Ten Faces of Innovation, that Tom Kelley paints a broad picture of what a cross-pollinator is…

“Cross-pollinatiors retain the childlike ability to see patterns others don’t, and to spot key differences. But they’ve also honed the very adult skill of applying those subtle differences in new contexts. The often think in metaphors, enabling them to see relationships and connections that others miss. They act as matchmakers, creating unusual combinations that often spark innovative hybrids. Cross-pollinators frequently approach problems from unusual angles.”

And as much as cross-pollinators can be embraced for their ideas and thinking, they can also be dismissed and marginalized. A cross-pollinators broad infusion of ideas and thinking, as well as the unique way in which they connect their dots, can be difficult for many decipher and understand. Leading to frustration on both ends, from both sides.

But it is this marginalization and dismissive attitude that we have to avoid.  We have to encourage and promote this type of thinking in our individuals, in our teams and in our organizations. Especially if we want our individuals, teams and organizations to remain creative, as well as innovative.

“The Cross-Pollinator is an essential part of the ecosystem of innovation.”  -Tom Kelley via Ten Faces of Innovation 

References and quotes taken from…

Kelley, Tom. The Ten Faces of Innovation: Ideo’s Strategies for Beating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization. 2005. Currency Doubleday.


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