On a recent flight home from Silicon Valley, I was lost in thought about innovation-rich cultures. Too often we think heroic inventors like Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison solely drive big breakthroughs. We create myths about inventive leaders, turning them into icons. In Steven Johnson’s great book on innovation, How We Got to Now, he asks, “who discovered the light bulb?” Simple question, right? The answer is not so simple. The real back story is that Edison purchased 40 existing light bulb patents, and then he worked with a team of people, who “heroically discovered” the light bulb.
Myths aside, innovation is a collaborative, team sport built on the shoulders of many people. We see this same principle play out in the companies we advise: the real value-creating sources of innovation are internalized in the networks of engaged, collaborative, diverse groups of people committed to a common purpose that serves and contributes continually in new ways. As one CEO shared with me, “Even when you think someone is the genius-hero innovator, it usually turns out to have been an extremely collaborative process with many people involved, contributing and supporting the eventual breakthrough. Heroes are usually made by many competent collaborators arduously working behind the scenes.”
Upon my return from the west coast, I continued thinking about seeds of innovation and how it becomes embodied in people and enterprise culture. I shared a conversation with Andrew Pek, a Korn Ferry colleague, who is an authority on fostering and shaping innovative culture. He is also coauthor with Jeannine McGlade of Stimulated: Habits to Spark Your Creative Genius at Work, a book that consistently hits lists of top creativity resources. Pek and I talked about how Apple creatively applied integrative methodology in product development and systems. Steve Jobs had this unique synergistic ability to see the value in connecting separate and different things. He embedded this way of seeing differently in Apple’s culture by integrating related but different value-adding elements.
Andrew explained the innovative process this way: “First it’s about collecting the dots. Then, it’s about connecting the dots. That’s integration. Then, it is about creating new dots. That’s innovation.” I wanted to explore this vein of thinking and methodology, and Andrew mentioned what he has termed “The New IQ, Integrative Intelligence.” Intrigued, I peppered him with questions, and we began the first of what will be a continuing conversation on the topic. What follows is the essence.
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(*Excerpt from Forbes written by Kevin Cash)