Clash Of Ideas: The Tension Of Innovation

“In every organization we studied, we saw how leaders dealt with this ongoing source of tension.  They made sure the disapproval of more experienced expert members didn’t smother dissension, minority viewpoints, or the fresh perspectives of the inexperienced or the newcomer.  They encouraged constructive disagreement.  They gave people discretionary time to pursue their particular passions.  They recognized that individuals need engagement and connection, as well as intellectual and emotional space, to do their best work.  In short, leaders created places where individuals were willing to contribute their best efforts because they felt not only part of the group but also valued by and valuable to the group.”  -Hill, Brandeau, Truelove, and Lineback via Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation

Too often when we think of creativity and innovation, we think of passion, we think of inspiration, we think of the lone genius, and we think of that ‘aha’ moment where it all comes together.

Too little do we consider and understand the hard work and heavy lift creativity and innovation requires, the tension that arises from the need to engage in the positive conflict and candor necessary to get too the best ideas, and the collective effort that must be invested and expelled both cognitively and emotionally on an ongoing basis to make this work happen.

Inability to comprehend and build understanding around the heavy lift of this work is a disservice to the organization and those engaging in more creative and innovative work.  When we understand the demands, we are better prepared to face them head on.

As the authors of Collective Genius share, “Innovation emerges most often from the collaboration of diverse people as they generate a wide-ranging portfolio of ideas, which they then refine, improve, and even evolve into new ideas through discussion, give and take, and often-heated contention.”  

However, this work seldom flourishes in dysfunctional, command and control environments.  To engage in the candor and “clash of ideas” necessary to move past ‘whose’ idea to the ‘best’ idea requires collaborative environments built upon a foundation of high-levels of trust and empathy.

Without trust and empathy, the ‘best’ ideas never even make it to the table, and most often, they are never even shared.

The most creative and innovative organizations don’t just accept ideas, they engage ideas. They wrestle and fight with ideas, not because they don’t think they are good, but because they want to make them even better.  They learn to not hold any idea too close to the chest, understanding that any idea can be built upon and improved.  They approach the idea process with an attitude of positive “plussing” which allows ideas to expand and evolve.

Which is cognitively and emotionally demanding work.

As the authors of Collective Genius add, “Yet the friction of clashing ideas can be hard to bear.  The sparks that fly in heartfelt discussions can sting.  At a minimum, they can create tension and stress.  Many organizations consequently dislike conflict in any form and try to discourage it.  But blanket condemnation of all strife and conflict will only stifle the free flow of ideas and rich discussions that creative collaboration needs.”

Which requires a different kind of leadership.  Especially if you are going to be able to engage the organization in this level of creative and innovative work, especially on an ongoing basis.  It can be difficult, frustrating and even painful at times, which is why many organizations struggle with truly engaging and sustaining creative and innovative work.

Today’s organizations need leaders who realize the collective commitment and level of collaboration required to engage in this work and who are better prepared to create the conditions to engage it.  Leaders who are emotionally intelligent in supporting their people through the cognitive and emotional demands of the conflict and candor required of “plussing” ideas.  Leaders who can not only create the environment that allows this work to occur, but creates the conditions of trust and empathy necessary to do this work positively and effectively.

As the research of Hill, Brandeau, Truelove, and Lineback shows, “In every organization we studied, we saw how leaders dealt with this ongoing source of tension.  They made sure the disapproval of more experienced expert members didn’t smother dissension, minority viewpoints, or the fresh perspectives of the inexperienced or the newcomer.  They encouraged constructive disagreement.  They gave people discretionary time to pursue their particular passions.  They recognized that individuals need engagement and connection, as well as intellectual and emotional space, to do their best work.  In short, leaders created places where individuals were willing to contribute their best efforts because they felt not only part of the group but also valued by and and valuable to the group.”  

Which requires a different kind of leader and a different set of skill-sets to create the environment and culture to not only do this work, but do it effectively and to sustain it over time.

We live in a time where organizations are not just in want of creative and innovative thinking and action, but require it for ongoing relevance in a world that is shifting and changing in an exponential manner and at an accelerated pace.  And yet, we still struggle to hire and prepare today’s leaders for this new challenge, to lead this work in and across all levels of our modern organizations.

The better we prepare today’s leaders to create the environment for creativity and innovation to exist and flourish, the more relevantly our organizations and individuals will move forward into the future.

“Managing tensions in the organization is an ongoing issue…you don’t want an organization that just salutes and does what you say.  You want an organization that argues with you.  And so you want to nurture the bottoms up, but you’ve got to be careful you don’t just degenerate into chaos.”  -Bill Coughran Google

What’s Your Moonshot?

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“A moonshot taps into human aspirations to achieve something unexpected, difficult, and worthwhile.”  -Goldman and Purmal The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business As Usual

In September of 1962, John F. Kennedy’s speech at Rice University, touched something in all of us.  From expectation to aspiration, his words lifted up the human spirit to reach new heights, to learn to see the impossible as possible, igniting our sense of curiosity, as well as reigniting our passion to pioneer a new way forward, to blaze paths were none existed.

Words that served as the catalyst for Moonshot Thinking…

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Our world has changed a lot since Kennedy’s speech in 1962, but that idea of the Moonshot still seeps into those individuals and organizations that are willing to do what others have not, to challenge themselves and those around them to set the pace, to raise the bar on the idea of possible, to muster up incredible feats of creative and innovative thinking and doing, all in the aim of further, better.  To rekindle and reignite a willingness and “want” to brave the unknown, the uncertain, to move out beyond the bounds and borders of the known and the usual.

To reach for something higher, to bring out the best in each and every one of us…

And while the pace of change has accelerated and the world has determined to move in a much more exponentially manner, the spirit of the Moonshot remains, in us and our organizations that are willing to continually push past the status quo and linear thinking that keeps us entrenched in the known.

The only change may be that our “Moonshots” of the past are quickly becoming “Mars shots” for the future…

As you determine your perspective FOR the future, don’t lose sight of or bury those Moonshots and crazy ideas that often lay buried under the surface.  Remember, so very often, what was considered crazy today, is what changes the world for the better tomorrow.

So as you consider your moonshot, in their work, The Moonshot Effect, Goldman and Purmal give us good understanding of what a moonshot is and that “a moonshot has three essential elements woven into its very fabric:”

IT’S UNEXPECTED: because it lives outside of business as usual, the moonshot is surprising.

IT’S HARD: you cannot transform by doing more of what you’re already doing.  A moonshot demands breakthroughs and disruption.

IT’S WORTH IT: achieving a moonshot represents a major victory, tapping into the innate human aspiration to be the first or best at something.

Very often, especially in getting to those essential elements of a moonshot, a reframe is required.  A reframing of our perspective.  A reframe in how we do, of how we think, of how we work, and even of how we dream.

Out of this reframe, it’s our big questions that become the driver that naturally uncovers our Moonshot…

They move us from the urgent to the important.  They allow us to engage greater empathy and compassion along the way.  They help us to iterate our way forward, determining when a pivot or shift may be necessary or required.  They help us to erect ladders over our barriers and bore holes in our walls.  They move us from “yes, but” to “yes, and” thinking.  They open the door to more experimental, discovery learning (which we could all use a bit more of).  They continually serve as slingshots to our Moonshots.

In closing,

We don’t get a lot of chances to do something truly great in this world…

Finding your Moonshot is that chance, just don’t let it pass you by.

“A moonshot is the antidote to the gravitational pull of day-to-day burdens.  It requires people to discard their business-as-usual habits, and unites them in a collective endeavor to achieve something extraordinary.  In the process, the teams and leaders who set out on the mission are transformed through the moonshot effect.”  -Goldman and Purmal The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business As Usual

So, what’s your Moonshot?