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The Collaborative Error That's Killing Innovation

The mushy middle is not where innovation lives.

Source: Source: WikiMedia


It's the term of the day.

And you can even go as far to suggest that the 'collaboratory' is the hot dynamic that's driving think tanks and accelerators. But recently, data suggest that high performers may be hampered by this process. Here's the perspective from the study.

A multisource field study of 936 relationships among 350 stylists within 105 salons offered support for our model and an experiment with 204 management students constructively replicated our findings and ruled out alternative explanations. Results indicated that peers offered more support and also perpetrated more undermining to high performers. Paradoxical cognitive processes partly explain these behaviors, and cooperative contexts proved socially disadvantageous for high performers.

And while it does support the "lone wolf" perspective on the isolated thinker, I believe that many collaborative-type meetings are driven by something that may support this observation.

It's the mushy middle.

Too often, meetings and collaborative events are about consensus. And here lies the key point: collaboration doesn't equal consensus. What's missing here is the critical action of moving people away from that mushy center to new point that is driven by innovative ideas and formulated by those 'high performers' that are so often ostracized by conventional group thinking.

Innovation is not an intellectual average.

Simply put, collaboration drives a new perspective. And it's this new perspective that shifts the thinking to a new point. After that, the battle of consensus can solidify the outcome. Unfortunately, a collaborative meeting is frequently designed as more of a democracy than a strategic undertaking where the power of the idea is supreme.

So, I think that this study is on to something. That 'high performer' may be stifled in a traditional collaborative meeting. But that shouldn't end the role of collaboration! It should help redefine the process and terms. The innovator very well may be more a fragile voice crushed by generic consensus. The process isn't easy. But the collaborative nature of meetings can still play a valuable role in innovation. But we may just need to give those 'innovators' a little bit more room to breath.

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