Teamwork, the True Mother of Invention

Today’s New York Times (December 7, 2008) has a wonderful article by business columnist Janet Rae-Dupree, with this title (in the print edition, Business section, page 3; the online version has a different title).  She starts by quoting what I told her in a recent interview:

Innovation today isn’t a sudden break with the past, a brilliant insight that one lone outsider pushes through to save the company.  Just the opposite: innovation today is a continuous process of small and constant change, and it’s built into the culture of successful companies.

Of course, I was delighted to be quoted in the article, but what makes it a great read is that she ties my research in the hands-on experience of many other executives; as she points out about the above quotation, “it’s a perspective shared broadly in corporate America.”  She quotes a lot of sources you’ve already read about if you follow my blog: for example, Ed Catmull, president of Pixar, writing about collective creativity in September’s Harvard Business Review.  She quotes Drew Boyd, a Cincinnati businessman, describing the brainstorming research that I discuss in my book Group Genius–showing that brainstorming is so often used ineffectively.  She talks about how Einstein’s “lone genius” image has been exaggerated, citing Hans Ohanian’s book Einstein’s Mistakes (see my blog entry on that here).

And she closes with an example I didn’t know about: the Innovation Learning Network formed by a dozen health care systems, to exchange innovative ideas.  Kaiser Permanente came up with their KP MedRite program as a result of their participation in this network: the goal of KP MedRite is to make sure nurses aren’t interrupted while they’re dispensing medications.  The director of the network, Chris McCarthy, concludes that “the group effort allows us to move much more quickly and become successful much faster.”

6 thoughts on “Teamwork, the True Mother of Invention

  1. The NYTimes article was inspirational indeed.
    Read it in the morning and thought about it several times during the day. It inspired me to “drill down” to your blog to explore what your ideas are all about.

    Thank you.

    This blog is highlighted in my career management blog for chemists. If there is any time when we need to be creative and thoughtful it is now.

    Please point out, if you could, some posts that will help scientists develop their full potential, be satisfied and be productive in the shrinking economy. Email replies:

  2. Thanks for your kind comments! Your question is a tall order…I don’t know of any blog posts that address that, and really I think the message is too complex to fit in a blog post. You might be interested in a book called SCIENTIFIC GENIUS from 1988, by D. K. Simonton. Also, various studies of how analogy contributes to scientific insight, for example the book MENTAL LEAPS by Holyoak and Thagard (1996).

  3. Keith,
    I’d missed Rae-Dupree’s piece so thanks. Often times an impediment I’ve found when working with process improvement and problem solving teams is an unwillingness to spend time in discussion related to a creative solution. Part of it seems to be work overload, another is that they’ve spend the last X-number of meetings being linear and data driven so the “right-turn” seems to be difficult for them to make. And they’re not the greatest at listening to each other. With strong facilitation I can typically get past the last difficulty. But the other too are more hit and miss. Any creative ideas? Thanks.

  4. It’s satisfying to see Sunday’s article resonate with so many bloggers, I must have read ten different blog posts on Rae-Dupree’s article in the last two days. I take it as a sign that lots of folks out there are convinced of the benefits of collaboration, but are at the same time worried about the very real possibilities that it won’t work if it’s not done right.

    You’re exactly right that you can’t expect people to be able to shift gears and become collaborative and non-linear just for one meeting on Friday afternoon. The attitude has to be built into the culture, so that there’s space for listening, connection, and collaboration all week long (and especially, impromptu and unexpected conversations that aren’t part of scheduled meetings).

  5. I’d love to hear ideas about where I can take Unboxed in the future. The NY Times has decided not to run it anymore (it ran the first Sunday of each month for a year), but I still have plenty to write about in the creativity/innovation arena. Stay in touch!

    1. I can’t imagine the NYT without your column! I’ve looked forward to it every month. Your work benefited all of us. I’m sure we’ll see you in print again soon. In the meantime I’ll keep checking your web site (is there some reason your web site doesn’t mention your work for the NYT?)

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