The Push for Collaboration and The Emergence of Mediocrity
As good as it may feel, innovation isn't a democracy.
Posted April 23, 2019
One of the glaring realizations around innovation is that culture is an essential dynamic. The empowerment of the rank and file to embrace and execute innovative strategies and tactics is a cornerstone to driving change. Top-down declarations don't always inspire the correct actions. And even worse, misguided or the complete lack of direction leads employees on less a bold step forward to more of a limping gait.
The fear of disruption and obsolescence is driving a host of strategies and tactics that are intended to "reinvent" something that is new and competitive. From manufacturing to pharma, conference rooms and video screens are full of concerned faces who are struggling to find the way forward.
Yet the converse seems to have a bit of truth in too. I've written about how "isolation" in the workplace is something that shouldn't be cast aside. There's real power in closing that office or conference room door with no one else but you inside.
...the hustle bustle of engagement doesn't always manifest in that robust, collaborative environment to change the world. Sometimes, people just need a little space.
However, it feels like today's groupthink is exactly just a groupthink. We all show up at a meeting—marginally prepared—with smiles and expectations. The heavy lifting is either differed or modified into something that's less intellectually heavy. The power of the idea has been compromised to create the power of the expedient solution. And here lies one of the central problems of collaborative innovation. The meeting, organized with good intentions, often ends up with ideas that live in the mushy middle. If you want a white house and I want a red house, pink is hardly the best solution.
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.
Then there's another character who shows up these working sessions: the bully. You know that "bold" voice that drives a contrived level of consensus that is based on something other than logic and sound though. Interestingly, it's this style of leadership that is often held up as visionary or desirable.
No, it's not a "mushy middle" where consensus and averages define achievement. It might just be that the magical whisper in the corner too frequently gets drowned out by those who think they know better and can yell louder.
In the final analysis, it's the big idea that needs to be discovered and stand up to scrutiny. The path to getting there is one of the single biggest obstacles that confronts companies and individuals alike. The process isn't arbitrary. While unencumbered thought and blue sky thinking are critical, a method to this madness will place the lightning rod of innovation squarely in the storm of creativity and innovation.