Tap cynics for fresh ideas

Buses now have a special place in the management lexicon, thanks to Jim Collins. His landmark research into the elements of sustainable corporate success, captured in Good to Great, used a bus driver metaphor to illustrate effective leadership. It’s not just about the journey but who you’re taking with you, he observed, so good leaders “start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats”. Unfortunately for Collins, the bus metaphor has too often been used to silence outliers and critics – those who aren’t “on the bus” – or exit them from the organisation altogether. When it comes to innovation, that’s a waste of potentially rich, diverse viewpoints and ideas. The highly successful animation company, Pixar, takes a completely different approach, as researchers Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer, outline in Idea Hunters. “Another way Pixar enlarges its thinking is to welcome ideas from misfits and malcontents,” they write. “They’re the people who are on their way out the door because their weird, wild or just plain different ideas aren’t being given an opportunity to grow.” As Brad Hird, director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, told McKinsey Quarterly, he was brought into Pixar to shake things up. “So I said, ‘Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody’s listening to’.” The cynics might have already been pushed off the bus because they saw different ways of doing things but there was little opportunity to try them in an environment where things worked incredibly well. Instead, Hird says, “we gave the black sheep a chance to prove their theories, and we changed the way a number of things are done here.”

 

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