How To Innovate Through Collaboration

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.

George Bernard Shaw

Collaboration and innovation are each difficult enough to accomplish on their own. Misunderstandings, scheduling conflicts and misaligned goals have the potential to sabotage collaboration (especially over any distance) and the road to innovation is beset with creative blockages, bad research and fierce competitors trying to beat you to market.

It really comes as no surprise, then, that the ripest fruit is harvested by those who can somehow find a way to overcome the challenges of both collaboration and innovation and make them work together in order to reach new heights. We know now that the myth of the lone wolf – the solitary genius – is just that: a myth. But if we know this to be true, how do we break free of relying on individuals?

Drive your #innovation forward by assembling the perfect #collaborative team. Click To Tweet

Building on the knowledge of others

It is often said that there are no new ideas under the sun. Looking around a world in which a phone with a bigger screen and thinner profile is seen as an “innovation”, you might be tempted to believe the notion. However, all innovation is derived from past innovation and this has (mostly) always been the case.

Every advancement in information technology is only possible because the computer was invented in the first place… and then programming languages… and then the internet… you see what we mean.

There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s how we advance as a species – but it’s important to keep this in mind because it further underscores that no innovation is truly accomplished in isolation. The “lone wolf” innovator is really just adding value to innovations of his predecessors. The key to pushing forward is embracing this reality and making the most of it.

Team collaboration is more fun

Hive psychology suggests that true happiness is found where humans are able to integrate so deeply into a group that their self-consciousness fades away. By nature, we humans like being around and working with others. Becoming a part of a social organism enables us to transcend our individual shortcomings. Yet working on teams isn’t always as great as this expectation.

This doesn’t have to be the case.

Humans are social by nature - embrace that fact when trying to spur #innovation Click To Tweet

How to innovate through collaboration

Merely gathering people will not in itself drive innovation forward. The construction of your collaborative team should be carefully considered and aligned with the goals of your project.

Innovators: Assemble!

It’s important to have both men and women on the team, as well as at least one analytical thinker. A creative group should be given a license to brainstorm freely in order to generate the best ideas, but this analytical team member will have one eye on the logistical details. Nobody likes a party-pooper (and this team member shouldn’t be one) but it is important to keep ideas within the realm of the possible in order to quickly bring those ideas from brainstorm to realization.

Once your team is assembled, as much as possible should be done to foster a sense of togetherness and commonality. There should be no “me” – only “we”. A group of individuals can become competitive and threatening, while a group of teammates can build on each other’s ideas in a truly collaborative process.

Building this trust is certainly not easy, especially in a professional context where the philosophy of every man for himself can sometimes override even the best of group work intentions. Heidi Grant Halvorson – the author of No One Understands You and What To Do About It – says that the key to building this trust is in confidence and warmth.

Accomplishing this warmth is rather straightforward with groups that meet in the same physical space. All of the classic Dale Carnegie wisdom applies in these scenarios: active listening, strong eye contact, a friendly smile.

A key to great #collaboration: trust built through confidence and warmth. Click To Tweet

As for groups that don’t meet in person? Tools like Blrt enable you to restore this warmth and confidence to your remote collaboration, allowing you to talk as you point, draw and gesture over the photos or documents that you’re collaborating on. No more misreading text emails as being more blunt than they were intended and no chance for misinterpretation of your feedback.

If Carnegie were alive today, he’d be using Blrt to win friends and influence people.

How to inspire critical thinking

Now that you’ve assembled your team and established warm and fuzzy feelings of camaraderie, it’s time to get busy innovating.

Of course, there is no one correct way for a group to work. What works for you may not work for others. Research into group dynamics, creativity and innovation identify some traits of successful groups but even an 86% success rate for a given factor still leaves room for the other 14% to diverge and do their own thing.

The takeaway? That all of these factors are not a one-size-fits all framework for successful collaboration – you must pick and choose what will suit your team and perhaps modify each factor slightly for a perfect fit.

Having trouble getting ideas out of your #brainstorm sessions? Try this method. Click To Tweet

Roberto Verganti – a professor of innovation at Politecnico di Milano – recently outlined a framework for group innovation and critical brainstorming that we love.

The first step is to encourage individual reflection on the matter at hand. Yes, the previous 900 or so words of this post worked hard to dispel the power of the individual but hang tight – this is going to come full circle.

The reason this works is that it allows each team member to approach the problem without being biased by anything but their own experience. Psychiatrist Carrie Baron, M.D. posits the idea that once briefed on the task, individuals will derive inspiration from their environment as they go about their lives and that this inspiration can lead to truly novel breakthroughs.

When the team comes together, you should have quite a few raw ideas to work with and the group should be paired off to bounce their ideas off of each other. Extensive research has revealed that groups of two might be the single most creative combination, so this is the perfect setting in which to refine raw ideas.

The third stage of the process brings these pairs into what Verganti calls a radical circle – a group of no less than ten and no more than twenty team members who have been charged with the same task. The refined ideas will be put to the test by the radical circle by first coming to a consensus about directions the group most definitely does not want to pursue before starting to look for points of overlap and common themes that will help many ideas become one or a few truly revolutionary ideas.

After this incubation, the final stage is to present the ideas to informed outsiders that can think like (or are!) your customers. Verganti stresses that this stage is not for idea generation but rather to inspire questions about the ideas. Essentially, at this stage the group is putting their darlings before the firing squad and should be ready to take heavy fire.

Long live the water cooler

An overlooked (and sometimes bemoaned) aspect of collaborative work is the conversation that takes place about topics other than the task at hand.

Don't underestimate the power of the water cooler in driving #innovation Click To Tweet

Team members may arrive early to meetings and engage in chit chat, coffees may be consumed with other team members, notes may be compared over figurative or literal water coolers. These informal interactions between team members are so important that they represent one-third of the difference in productivity between groups studied at MIT.

This should be taken into consideration when constructing itineraries for your team. Schedule time for breaks and provide refreshments that will keep team members in the room and chatting. The challenge is steeper for remote teams, but not insurmountable. Encourage team members to dial into calls earlier to allow for personal chit chat (group leaders can instigate this chatter if necessary) or take advantage of the text messaging features of Blrt to maintain informal conversations with group members within the same platform, but separated from the formal workspace.

Taking innovation further

Collaboration is absolutely key for truly valuable innovation. Incorporating the above advice and frameworks is a great launching point for your own collaborative innovation efforts, though you’ll want to tailor it all to your own needs and environment.

Take great care in assembling your team and building camaraderie, then drive creative thinking through a structured and focused process. The end result may just be something truly groundbreaking – the stuff that future thinkers will build upon!

Start building that future right now:

About Blrt

Collaboration tools like Blrt restore the warmth and personal touch to remote teamwork.

Blrt helps you get your point across quickly by allowing you to talk, point and draw over images, documents and websites. The resulting video-like recording is called a Blrt.

Your Blrts require much less bandwidth than video and can be shared with anyone on mobile or desktop. This makes Blrt ideal for both collaboration and the creation and sharing of dynamic content, as public Blrts can be embedded into any webpage.

Once recorded, Blrts are stored in the cloud and are exchanged with others in a conversation-like fashion. A record is kept of the exchange, and new parties and media can be added at any time.

Blrt shifts time and place, allowing users in a conversation to participate in their own time. In an era where activity-based working and distributed teams are commonplace, Blrt is revolutionising the way people interact to get things done.

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