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Collaboration or competition? Developing an innovative mindset

March 12, 2015

It’s common knowledge that innovation—i.e. the act of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value for customers—is an organizational imperative in today’s ever-changing markets. Most of the discussion these days is focused on disruptive and on sustaining innovation (more on that in another post to come). But what about creativity? There are plenty of examples of innovative organizations succeeding (Apple, Uber, Amazon, etc.) They are undoubtedly very creative. Yet there are also plenty of myths regarding creativity and innovation that actually stifle rather than encourage innovation:

  • Creativity only comes from creative types. Wrong. Almost all of the research in this field shows that anyone with normal intelligence is capable of doing some degree of creative work. For the most part, it’s a matter of permission. Give people permission to be creative and they will be.
  • Money motivates creativity. Actually, no. People are most creative when they care about their work and they’re stretching their skills. Creativity flourishes in an environment of acceptance. Sure, incentives may stimulate initial efforts, however, creativity is sustained by nurturing not bribing.
  • Time pressure fuels creativity. Yes and No. On the one hand, time pressure can stifle creativity because people can’t deeply engage with a problem. On the other hand, placing time limits on activities associated with the creative process under thoughtfully constructed environments promotes the variety of unencumbered ideas that yield creative and innovative solutions.
  • Fears force breakthroughs. Not. Fear forces breakdowns. Creativity is positively associated with joy and love and negatively associated with anger, fear and anxiety. Imagine this statement: Be creative or else!
  • Competition beats collaboration. Actually the opposite is true. The most creative teams are those that have the confidence to share and debate ideas.

There was a major US firm that used friendly competition as a way of encouraging innovation in its product creation. They were aiming at future technologies and methodologies to increase top-line growth. Teams from across the company competed against one another to offer the best solutions. Year after year a team and its idea was selected and its project funded. The results were mixed and very few of the product ideas made it to market; even less were adopted by customers.

Later that same company switched to a collaborative approach. The company selected a cross section of engineers, business development practitioners, program managers and other functional experts who self-organized, worked together and after a while made three proposals to the senior leadership team. Two of the three proposals were funded and both projects made it to market, satisfying customers throughout their industry.

The reality is collaboration beats competition more often than not.

So, the key question for leaders today is: Are you really cultivating a culture of innovation? If not, you should be. And the good news is, contrary to the popular myth that only “gifted creative types” have the ability to innovate, an innovative mindset can be learned and developed in both individuals and organizations.

If you want to learn more, check out this free webinar recording.


It explains how anyone can develop an innovator’s mindset.



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