When I was being trained as an ‘Inventor’ – a job title which continues to give me a lot of pleasure – at the innovations consultancy WhatIf, it was drummed into us that ‘brainstorming’ was the lowest form of idea generation. Yes, you can throw a bunch of smart people into a room and see what they can pluck out of the ether, but it is a progressively inefficient technique. Not only are the ideas likely to be random, weak and derivative, but the participants – and I have heard this first-hand from teams that are required to churn ideas day-in, day-out – rapidly become jaded and creatively exhausted.
But the real weakness of brainstorming is that it encourages creative egotism. I took part in one session – professionally facilitated in a fair and even way – where, at the end, we all voted for the ideas we wanted to develop further. After the dud ones had been culled, leaving a handful of post-its clinging to the whiteboard, one participant slumped into a chair and declared their disillusionment with the whole process. Their reason: “None of the ideas that are left are mine”!
Research indicates that innovation is not delivered via an individual’s Eureka-moment ‘inspiration’ but by groups of people combining existing notions into never-seen-before combinations.
Hybridisation is the name of the game.
It’s exactly the same when you are growing a business. Even in the unlikely event that your enterprise replicates another identically, it is highly improbable that it will follow the same path or pattern of growth. One thing you can be sure of as its leader is that, sooner or later, you will find yourself in unknown territory. And then you’ll be looking for a map, a template, a model that you can recognise and say – an audible note of relief in your voice – that’s where we are, that’s the shape we need to be. If only.
When you need a model of how to deal with an aspect of growth – a management structure; a set of processes; a new commercial model; a business development strategy; an evolving org chart – it is unlikely to emerge from a brainstorm or any other ether-tapping technique. Nor, given the unique character of your business, will it come from importing an existing model lock, stock & barrel.
We’re back to hybridisation, the fundamental technique for creating new things. You need to mash up previous models to make a new one. It’s tricky to make a mash-up from a single piece of source material. So if the only model you really know is the one you’ve developed within this company, a company that needs a new one pretty damn quickly, then you simply don’t have the means to hand. Scouring Amazon for business books and learning models secondhand in the comfort of your room doesn’t count.
You need to find a way to bring the experience of those models into your business, even if it’s just for a short while, so you can work the creative alchemy that makes new things from the clash of the old.