Innovation Strategy and the Collaborative Brain
We know there are differences in the ways that individuals solve problems, communicate, and ideate. We also know that neural pathways are being created and stimulated while we’re doing these things. Now, from the journal Scientific American, we understand that greater collaboration is more than just smart business – it’s built into our genetic makeup.
The business case has begun to gain momentum, as witnessed by Deloitte’s study, Talent Edge 2020, which found that executives across the globe rated collaboration as a top focal point in the coming years (66% said they anticipated increasing this avenue of talent strategy, second only to increasing talent operations and technology). [This does not show that it is important, just that it’s perceived as important.]
Dr. John Sullivan further supports this idea in a post titled Cross-Functional Collaboration: Discovering its $ Value and the Genius of Google on the HR blog ERE.net, stating that “learning from the innovative ideas and methods of others and then adapting them to your situation can dramatically increase levels of effective innovation.” He also points to another Deloitte study, which reported that 75% of business executives rank collaboration with vendors and partners as a top priority.
I want to get back to the subject of the brain though, because I think that addressing the question of why collaboration is important to us (and our businesses) is just as critical as the end results of collaborating. If we can combine knowledge of how our brains actually function with each of our unique preferences and behavioral tendencies around sharing, communicating and collaborating, the results can be even greater.
An article in Chief Learning Officer magazine cites the Scientific American study saying that resistance to innovation can be explained at least in part by what’s happening in the brain’s dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (DACC), in which the desire to be accepted, to be included, and to fit in triggers similar brain functions as the basic needs of food, water, and air.
All this talk of DACC and brain function may seem heady, so here’s the bottom line: Collaboration is fundamental to the way human beings process the world. The need to interact meaningfully and be in a forum where ideas are accepted and advanced is at the root of the way our brains function.
So if innovation in a collaborative sense is key to the global business community, and there is an innate need for humans to experience collaboration in an inviting and accepting way, what are the implications for the way good leaders manage, teams work together, and individuals create and communicate ideas?
For one thing, collaborative innovation isn’t going to happen by the same old processes. We can’t be pigeonholed into thinking that there are only a select few truly creative or innovative people in an organization. If anything, this research points to the fact that those employees and leaders who are considered “innovative” from an organizational perspective probably have figured out how to create ideas in a way that invites acceptance. But how many incredible ideas are organizations missing out on because the innovation process is restricted to a small group of “innovators”?
Think about your organization’s innovation practices or models—do they encourage employees to engage in a collaborative sense?
- Are there outlets through which individuals can express themselves in various ways, like a company Twitter or Facebook page and face-to-face, informal settings like group lunches or recreational sports teams?
- Are there places—like a community whiteboard—where people can write ideas without risk of judgment?
- Is there a dedicated brainstorming time each month, to appeal to more structured, process-centric employees?
No matter what the strategies for collaborative innovation are, the key is to realize that there are different ways in which each person’s thinking and behavioral perspectives will manifest themselves. Even more importantly, there is a brain-based need to tap those preferences in order to create an atmosphere where collaborative innovation can thrive.
We’re learning more and more about the brain; and we’re learning more and more about collaboration and organizational dynamics. Putting these insights together can help us ensure that innovations are having the greatest possible impact.
Mark E. Miller is the Director of Marketing for Emergenetics International – an organizational development consulting company dedicated to expanding the capabilities of the one thing most valuable to every one of our clients – their people. Follow us on Twitter.
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