When Steve Jobs developed the iPod in 1997, he assembled a diverse group of thinkers with different points of view and areas of expertise. They didn’t invent something new. Rather, they brought together disparate technologies that no one had ever thought to use alongside each other before. This is how breakthrough innovations happen: when a variety of high-performers collaborate to run experiments in a high-energy environment.

If a wild, radical solution is what you seek, then jump-starting is the way to go. Jump-starting is the creation of new ideas through exposure to an assortment of stimuli and hand-on involvement with the challenge at hand. The key to the jump-start process is learning through trial and error.

Jump-starting is invigorating. It’s about the generation of contagious excitement. It’s about risk-taking. If you’re looking for low-risk improvements, or if you need to extend or leverage your existing technologies, it is better to plan more systematically than to jump-start. Jump-starting will help you achieve any of these outcomes:

  • Generating breakthrough ideas quickly
  • Creating energy and fun
  • Transforming winning ideas into new initiatives, products, or services
  • Challenging institutional thinking and boundaries

Jump-starting works best when your organization is either in a crisis moment or a moment of intense success, outperforming expectations. It is in these extraordinary conditions when the risks and rewards associated with radical change are reversed: you have a lot less to lose and a lot more to gain.

First, identify the key problem. Write a challenge statement that clearly articulates the challenge to be solved. Make sure that the challenge is within the means of this group to address.

Then, collect data: what do you know? What do you need to know? Who knows what? Gather some facts, information, and opinions by consulting with people who are experts in their fields.

Next, generate as many ideas as possible. Keep in mind these guidelines used by design firm IDEO when brainstorming:

  • One conversation at a time
  • Stay focused on the topic
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Defer judgment
  • Build on the ideas of others

Review your ideas and identify those that promise the most breakthrough solution. Feel free to combine interesting ideas or add new ones.

Don’t just pick low-hanging fruit. You need to choose the ideas that provide a solution to the challenge and that are feasible–within the realm of possibility–but you also need to choose those that have the “wow” factor. Does it make you and the people around you excited? Is it important to you? Is it more special than your ordinary goal or task?

The best part of the jumpstart process is the high energy that it sparks. Closure is overrated. Don’t flip to end of the book right away. Understand that the messiness of the middle is the best part of the story.


Originally published on

The creative, the visionary, and the just plain out there.

That’s the goal of Michigan Radio’s new project, The Next Idea.

The on-air and online project will focus on creativity and innovation and ideas to move Michigan forward.

We’ll be featuring this project here on Stateside and we will look to you and ask for your ideas.

Here to tell us more is the Next Idea’s executive producer Joe Linstroth, and Jeff DeGraff, a clinical professor of Management and Organization at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

Listen to our conversation with Linstroth and DeGraff below:

DeGraff says, to him, innovation means having the ability to make something better and new. He’s interested in seeing how people make an inquiry into problems.

Linstroth, talking about The Next Idea, says what he’s looking for are people with ideas – people with the passion and ideas to change the status quo.

The big question for Linstroth and DeGraff is “How do we move the state forward?”

It’s a question Linstroth says needs to be broken down into more manageable sections.

For help, the project will recruit contributors from across the state and from a variety of backgrounds –including from big corporations and academia, incubators and non-profits — simply anywhere someone has a potentially revolutionary new idea to make Michigan a better place to live and work.

Linstroth and DeGraff say they plan on rolling out the project in the beginning of December.


The biggest myth about innovation is that it is done only by geniuses who work alone. The truth is that innovation happens when ordinary people learn to work together. The key is to find individuals who don’t think like you, who can fill in your blind spots and make up for your weaknesses.

In order to encourage effective collaboration within your organization, you need to find people who are good talent-scouts. These are the teachers, coaches, and connectors in your world–the people who have a natural eye for talent, who have the skill of finding and nurturing creativity. They know who needs to sit next to whom when it comes to building effective teams.

Talent-scouting takes time. It is a long-term kind of growth that emphasizes the cultivation of new knowledge and the building of a dynamic organizational culture. If you’re looking for systematic, reliable outcomes or guaranteed short-term payoffs, then talent-scouting is not for you. The pace of talent-scouting is unpredictable. But once you do assemble a diverse team of high-performers, the culture you establish will be sustainable into the future.

Talent-scouting can help you achieve any of these desired outcomes:

  • Finding, developing, and retaining the best people
  • Establishing a set of shared values
  • Creating a collaborative work environment where people are encouraged to learn from their mistakes

Before you bring in the right people, determine your needs: assess the strengths and gaps represented by your current team. Then, start looking for people who:

  • Work in an environment with values like yours
  • Have successfully been a member of another group or team
  • Have had to teach others how to do what they do well
  • Are currently customers who are passionate about your products or services

Next, test for the right abilities: as part of the evaluation process, ask each candidate to spend some time working or meeting with the team. Be sure to orient your new hires adequately. This means apprenticing them to advisers who exemplify your company’s values and practices.

Give your new hires slack in terms of time, space, resources, and the opportunity to improvise. The goal is to encourage them to cross boundaries. Promote risk-taking and avoid imposing control structures that deny high-potential hires the experiences they need to grow. Remember that the most essential people on your team are not the best innovators–they’re the people who know the best innovators and know how to bring them in.

Jeff’s Books