Tug of War

Two talented people who have nothing in common are more likely to create something exciting than two talented people who think the same way. Harmony is overrated. Innovation is about bringing together individuals with diverse strengths who can push against each other and build something collaboratively that they never would’ve come up with on their own. Innovation happens when there is constructive conflict, or positive tension, within an organization–not total agreement.

The Innovation Genome is a creative map of organizational dynamics that tells us how competing talents and seemingly opposing worldviews can come together to promote growth. The building blocks of the Innovation Genome are four competencies–four types of value that your organization can pursue: COMPETE,COLLABORATE, CREATE, andCONTROL. On the surface, these values are at odds with each other. But once you understand the way they work, you can use them strategically to jumpstart innovation.

The COMPETE, or blue, kind of value represents a Darwinist approach that focuses on competition where the strong prevail at the expense of the weak. This approach represents the drive toward goals and the endgame of power, money, fame, and other tangible forms of success.

The COLLABORATE, or yellow, kind of value is the opposite of COMPETE. Where the COMPETE approach celebrates an aggressive, often cutthroat spirit, the COLLABORATE approach strives for connection, harmony, and togetherness. This approach represents human relationships, the identification with family and clan, and the greater good of Man.

The CREATE, or green, kind of value pursues radical innovation through wild experimentation and extreme dislocation of conventions. This means maintaining a visionary focus on the future, with great adaptability in new environments.

The CONTROL, or red, kind of value is the opposite of CREATE. Where the CREATE approach takes risks and thrives in uncertainty, the CONTROL approach works to eliminate risk. This is about being consistent, using reliable systems and procedures that promote stability.

Every approach has its downside. Red projects face the danger of becoming too bureaucratic. Green projects run the risk of creating too much chaos. Blue projects are sometimes shortsighted. Yellow projects may be overtaken by irrational enthusiasm. This is why you need to combine these approaches to make up for their respective weaknesses. For example, bringing together the stability of a red approach and the experimentation of a green approach encourages creativity while also keeping it within the bounds of procedure.

What happens when pragmatic thinkers work with big-picture thinkers? What happens when the goal-oriented thinkers meet the patient thinkers? This is the kind of variation that sparks innovation. Take a chance and surround yourself with people who don’t think the same way you do as you feel your way to the future. They just might surprise you.


Jason Hartman sits down and talks with Jeff DeGraff, professor for the University of Michigan’s Ross Business school and an expert in innovation. He has a new book coming out called, Making Stone Soup: How to Jumpstart Innovation Teams and has helped grow world leading corporations such as American Airlines, General Electric, and Coca Cola by using his Competing Values Framework system.

Listen to the full interview here.

Young businessman thinking over the ideas. Creativity concept

The four F’s of effective brainstorming.

Have you ever tried to get your team to brainstorm a breakthrough idea for a product or service only to find the process mostly yields extensions of existing ideas?

Research on creative thinking gives us these four simple suggestions that will greatly aid in generating great ideas in a short period of time:

Fluency: Whoever said one good idea is better than a thousand mediocre ones probably never invented anything. More is better. One of the inhibitors to creative thinking is your voice of judgment that kicks in when you think too long about the viability of your idea. The key is to generate ideas a faster than you can evaluate them. This will produce some unusual and impractical ideas that will serve as triggers for novel ideas that work.

  • Practice: Give your team a quota of at least 100 ideas in 15 minutes for each challenge. Post them on the wall for all to see. Use these raw ideas to trigger new ideas that are both novel and viable.

Flexibility: Steve Jobs remarked, “Creativity is just connecting things.” Creating a breakthrough idea may simply be a matter of reapplying an idea from one situation to another. For example, to improve their patient experience during hospital stay, a medical center sent their doctors to live in a posh hotel one week and their own hospital the next. The center simply applied the practices of the hotel to the hospital to completely transform the patient experience.

  • Practice: Ask your team to look at the challenge from the point of view of successful companies outside of your domain or setting. How would [Company X] approach this opportunity? How did [Company Y] solve this problem? The farther away from your own industry you get the more novel the ideas will be.

Freedom: Power dynamics don’t change just because a team is brainstorming off-site. The boss is still the boss. Even subtle forms of authority can stifle creative thinking. Whoever stands by the flip chart or white board writing down the ideas is either the most powerful person in the room, because they can edit all responses, or the least powerful because they act as a scribe for others. You can’t change power dynamics so it’s better to organize your teams and brainstorming session to manage them.

  • Practice: Divide and conquer. Break your team down into sub-groups and have them brainstorm in different locations. Staff each sub-group so that no one can dominate or stifle the others. Make sure that everyone writes and every idea is heard. Recombine these sub-groups in a sequence so that truly original ideas have a chance to develop before being evaluated.

Flow: Most of us have experienced a feeling of effortlessness and timelessness when doing something creative like painting. Researchers call this our flow state: when we are the most creative and “in the zone.” Some people are creative in the morning while others at night. Some people are most creative when listening to music while others need contemplative silence. The key is to find a time and place where team members typically enter these flow states.

  • Practice: Ask team members when and where they are most creative. Plan your brainstorming session around these preferences. Give teams sufficient time to get into a flow state but don’t expect it to last longer than an hour.

Getting bigger and better ideas is only the beginning. Next, you need to find the courage and minimal resources to create a wide array of experiments and prototypes and sustain the momentum all the way to commercialization.

Jeff’s Books