Monday, March 14, 2016

Innovation Pie a la Mode: Pairing for delicious success

Image by Rei at English Wikipedia, CC by SA 3.0
I love pie (blackberry if you must ask), and I love ice cream.  But put the two together, and I’m in heaven.  Something about the combination of a crispy, savory crust, flavorful warm fruit, and the sweetness and creaminess of vanilla ice cream melting into the pie really excites my taste buds.  This blend of opposites (warm and cold, sweet and savory, starch and dairy) combines to create something new and exciting.  This is innovation on a spoon.

You can create this magical blend in a brainstorm by bringing seemingly opposite people together that, rather than clashing, feed off of each other and generate quality new ideas at a frantic pace.  Each person has many dimensions to consider, from personality and personal experiences, to domain knowledge and technical skills.  Here are just two easy pairings to try.

Breadth and Depth
If I could only have two people in a brainstorm, I would start with someone who is a multipotentialite.  This is someone who is innately curious but often gets bored easily, starting, but not always finishing things.  This broad thinker often takes jobs in different roles or across industries.  He has a wide perspective and is bursting with paradigms and metaphors of all kinds.  

I would then match him with someone extremely knowledgeable in the field you are trying to innovate in.  This person is incredibly detail oriented, likes to focus on one task at a time, and deeply understands the topic.  She provides an understanding of the complexity and significance of different details and problems in the space.  While the broad thinker constantly comes up with new perspectives and ideas, the deep expert is able to react (often negatively) and thus guide the brainstorm towards areas where true innovative value can be created.

Playing these two off of each other shortens the loop between idea generation, evaluation, and then redirection.  This allows the pair to quickly iterate through ideas in minutes or less rather than in hours or even days and weeks.  Innovation is about quantity and speed.  Quick iteration through ideas allow you to narrow in on the quality, truly innovative concepts.

Social Science and Hard Science
A second pairing would be to bring together someone from the hard sciences (chemistry, physics, biology) with someone from the social sciences (sociology and economics).  Similar to the breadth/depth pairing, the interaction between these two will shorten the idea/evaluation loop.  

For instance, the hard scientist might come up with an idea that technically works, say a rocket pack to relieve traffic for urban commuters.  Then the social scientist explains that if everyone bought one, then air traffic would have the same problem.   The hard scientist then takes that problem statement and comes up with a technical solution, like air-born centralized mass transit.  As this accelerated looping between problems and solutions continues, the ideas become more refined, truly innovative, and actionable.

It’s important to note that the roles of idea generator and evaluator can switch.  The social scientist  can introduce an economic solution (e.g. lending through local community circles), and the hard scientist  can challenge.  Though the roles have swapped, this still allows ideas to morph and flow, getting better as it runs through each cycle.

Tying it all Together
Diversity is great, but bringing opposites together is not enough to ensure success.  It’s easy for brainstorms to devolve into small side arguments, never really get going, or run into roadblocks that stop the loop.  We’ll talk more about this in other posts, but here are some helpful elements in setting up a better brainstorm with opposites involved:
  • A separate facilitator to keep discussion moving
  • A clear shared goal for the brainstorm
  • Respect and trust established between the opposites
  • An understanding that negative feedback is not a “NO” but a challenge.  Problems with ideas are seen as opportunities to find more interesting solutions.

A great dish starts with great ingredients.  Innovation starts with great people.  In both cases, finding the right pairings can make all the difference.  There are many ways to find great combinations, and these are just two examples for you to start with. Try them out individually or even combine them next time you are looking for an innovative solution to a problem.