094: Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation | with Greg Brandeau

by Joe Sherwood on August 15, 2014

collective-geniusAre you a leader who builds teams that innovate again and again? Creating and sustaining an organization that is consistently innovative is extremely difficult (and rare). Conventional leaders see their role as conjuring up a vision and inspiring others to make it happen. The best leaders of innovation see their role quite differently. Former Pixar tech wizard Greg Brandeau joins us to discuss how to lead organizational creativity.

Greg has served as chief tech executive at some amazing companies (such as NeXT, Pixar, and Disney), working with amazing people (such as Steve Jobs, Ed Catmull, and John Lasseter). Along the way, he discovered some companies are able to innovate time and time again, and other companies do not. He and three colleagues researched this and wrote Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, the new book published by Harvard Business Review. Their results may surprise you.

Conventional wisdom says the leader’s role is to set a vision and inspire people to execute that vision. But what if a “deliciously wicked” problem calls for a truly original response? To create something truly new and useful, you as an individual cannot know exactly where to go. As Thomas Edison taught the world, true innovation is a team sport – the solution to a complex problem almost never comes from the genius of a solitary inventor, but rather from the collective genius of a team.

Creating and sustaining an organization that is consistently innovative is extremely difficult (and rare). That’s because innovation embodies basic paradoxes that produce ongoing tension, for example:

  • Unleashing the talents of individuals vs. Harnessing the creativity into a collective solution
  • Affirming and amplifying individual perspectives and ideas vs. Focusing on what the group needs
  • Fostering experimentation and learning vs. Achieving results on time and within budget
  • Promoting improvisation vs. Maintaining structure and constraints.

Leading innovation requires balancing these tensions, which requires re-thinking your role as leader. The best leaders of innovation don’t see their role as conjuring up a vision and inspiring others to make it happen – rather, they see their most important role as creating and supporting an environment and a context for the team to collectively do the work of innovation.

Together, Greg and Jesse discuss key concepts from the book, such as:

Willingness / Motivation to Innovate

  • Community (shared purpose)
  • Values and rules/norms of engagement (culture)

Ability to Innovate

  • Creative Abrasion
  • Creative Agility
  • Creative Resolution

Innovation ecosystem:

Finding tomorrow’s leaders of innovation

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