Do great minds really think alike?

It took a wise friend to state the obvious. “Great minds don’t think alike,” he said. “There’s huge value in the tension created by diversity.” That was years ago, yet organisations still struggle to inject diverse thinking into daily dialogue. When it comes to innovation, diversity is critical. While companies increasingly (and belatedly) acknowledge the value of creative thinking, the innovative process requires far more than just creativity. As Clayton Christensen and his colleagues discovered during their The Innovator’s DNA project, “innovative ideas flourish at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others’ or our own”. A recent study on innovation teams found that groups with a variety of cognitive types produce higher levels of innovation. The researchers studied 41 radical innovation teams in research and development and manufacturing units of a large defence contractor. Their most surprising finding: conformists dramatically increase a team’s radical innovations. That said, companies should avoid overdoing it, the researchers caution, because “large numbers of detail-oriented people can suppress creativity in their eagerness for precision”. The best teams include a mix of creatives, detail-oriented types and conformists. As in life, balance is the key. As the management thinker Peter Drucker put it in The Discipline of Innovation: “In innovation, as in any other endeavour, there is talent, there is ingenuity, and there is knowledge. But when all is said and done, what innovation requires is hard, focused, purposeful work. If diligence, persistence, and commitment are lacking, talent, ingenuity, and knowledge are of no avail.”


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