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Innovation: It’s a Group Sport

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Genius usually doesn’t happen alone. Maybe sometimes it does. You can probably think of at least one person who has the ability and talent to be an overnight sensation.

But for most of us, great innovation doesn’t occur in isolation. It happens in groups. 

"Great innovation doesn’t occur in isolation. It happens in groups. Just like great improvisation." 

And so does great improvisation. 

I’m researching how organizations can apply improvisation to innovation and change management to drive better outcomes in my new book, “Go With It: Embrace the Unexpected to Drive Change.” It’s evident that a group usually steers an invention or innovation, but one name is often associated with the success.

Here’s a great example:

Thomas Edison is credited for inventing the lightbulb  –  a huge innovation that changed modern life.

But he wasn’t the lone inventor.

He had a corporate sponsor, collaborated with other scientists working in the lab, and Edison had upwards of 30 assistants.

That’s a group project that likely went through a series of inventions that finally led to a great innovation.

Here’s where improv connects with innovation.

When I share with people that I did improv, they immediately assume that I’ve done stand-up comedy. I wasn’t very good at the little bit of stand-up I did; it was a terrifying experience. I have huge respect for people who do stand-up though, because you’re all alone on that stage  –  whether you’re good or bad!

But with improv, you’re on a team.

You’re never alone on the improv stage, managing an unhappy crowd all on your own. And on the flip side, when your troupe kills it, you get to celebrate together.

When you work with a group, you get to play off the creative, surprising and wonderful moments that happen and great ideas that come out of each individual.

Let’s circle back to the stand-up comedian. Even she doesn’t really work alone. While she may be on the stage by herself, she has a team of people  –  friends and collaborators  –  who watch and give feedback. She also uses writers to create content for her routine. It’s a group product, really.

In order to be innovative, we need to rethink the process.

It’s actually a group sport, not an individual thing. It’s like an improv troupe but for business.

Many innovators are able to use tenacity to drive their ideas through periods of hardship, but they’re not doing it alone. They are typically surrounded by collaborators. 

And that’s probably how your organization works, too. 

Rethink how you “do” innovation. Don’t bear the burden alone. Let your group take charge of innovation and change. 

When you take on the team-sport approach to innovation, you’ll remove the pressure that you have to perform  –  and do it alone  –  and instead, create opportunities for collaboration, which ultimately leads to faster, better innovation.

Gather with your team this week and talk about how innovation is a group sport, not an individual activity, to spur collaboration.

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