When we are thinking from a left-brain, analytical perspective, most of us would love for innovation to happen sequentially, in a linear, predictable fashion that we can repeat with equal success. What I’ve learned to appreciate about the creative process over many years is that it simply doesn’t work that way.

“Collaborative teams are the incubators of innovation.” — Keith Sawyer

That’s really a cool thing when we look at it from the right-brain perspective, where creativity supposedly originates. From there we see that it requires us to loosen up, enjoy ourselves more, trust our curiosity and inspiration more. Some people have an easier time moving between these two different approaches and hemispheres of the brain. For them, letting go of trying to force outcomes or ideas is a relief—an invitation to chill and see what happens.

Even though there is no fixed recipe for successfully generating innovative, creative ideas, I and others have found there are some elements that foster this activity. One of them is diversity.

In Keith Sawyer’s book, Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration, he cites a study where multiple creative teams were tasked with generating creative ideas in the medical arena, and the only team that had significantly poorer results was comprised of people who had grown up in the same culture, had similar educational training and therefore no need to listen deeply and understand differing perspectives. Their sameness was a handicap.

In contrast, those teams who had people from different cultures, social and economic backgrounds and varying professional training were forced to really listen to each other to gain understanding, and therefore were able to collaboratively generate very innovative solutions.

Today, a team I am a part of had a visitor new to our organization ask about our group process and how we were able to come up with so many ideas. We described to him how we learned early on that more ideas come out of our seeming rambling observations than any rigid agenda we were “supposed” to follow.

Just like on a great improv team, we get creatively sparked by unexpected turns in a conversation. This is greatly facilitated by having diverse people and experiences to draw from. Here are some examples:

  • What happens when people from two generations, decades apart allow their curiosity to drive the conversation? If a millennial and a baby boomer look at how we can create the best work place possible—what elements we would keep and what we would toss—how rich might that conversation be?
  • When we talk with those from other countries and cultures, what might they see that we don’t see and how might that spark ideas? In my advertising classes years ago we learned that Chevrolet Nova didn’t sell at all in Spanish-speaking countries, because the translation for them was “no go,” not a strong selling message for a car.
  • How does gender difference affect the way we see social structure and what is most called for in a product or service?
  • When we consciously seek out collaborators who have strengths different than our own, how does that inform our creations?

The more we allow our curiosity to lead us to ask provocative questions and we put ourselves in diverse situations, talk to new people outside our normal circle and allow the natural stimulation that comes from that, the more innovative ideas will spring into being. We don’t have to force creativity—we are designed to be that way. What are you most curious about and who might you approach to explore that, share inspiration and see what happens?

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