Conversation for Innovative Businesses

Last week’s Sunday New York Times had this interesting article, The Rise of the New Groupthink, about the deficiencies of the creativity exercise, brainstorming. The author posited that solitude was the better method for inspiration. In other words, quiet time away from distractions to allow for reflection and creative expression. While the effectiveness of brainstorming as a generator of ideas has reasonable grounds for criticism, so does this monastic prescription. Surprisingly, few businesses leverage one of the most productive, enjoyable, simple and obvious creativity techniques ever known: Conversation.

Exchanging thoughts, opinions and experiences provides the ingredients for innovation.
Steven Johnson points out in his book, “Where Good Ideas Come From,” that Eureka! moments are rare. Johnson adapts Stuart Kauffman’s work on the adjacent possible, recognizing that adaptive, incremental innovation is the more common way that good, new ideas are born (read through my essay on conversation here for further reference). By considering a handful of known phenomena or a “collision of small hunches”, we can take a step into a new yet adjoining domain of insight and inspiration. Conversation is a key that can unlock that door to the adjacent possible and adaptive, incremental innovation.

Johnson identifies serendipity as another essential ingredient for innovation. Moreover, luck cannot be forced; thus the insistence in brainstorming or facilitated dialogue that discussion focus on a specific topic, problem or defined challenge imposes restrictions on serendipity before the process has even begun. Similar impositions on the sole innovator constrain their ability to allow what I regard as the mind’s vacation, where it wanders randomly along its own synapses, prompted by unconscious stimuli that baffle neuroscientists even now. Conversation inherently is open to the kind of drift toward unforeseen chance that is a fertile area for good ideas to grow from.

In short, conversation lies freely and effortlessly between the individual and group’s directed creativity. It is a fundamental source of innovation and must be considered by any business that considers itself a place where an innovation environment is, or should be, present.

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I believe that conversation helps us to live better and work well.

4 thoughts on “Conversation for Innovative Businesses”

  1. I’m with you. Solitude is great but I find that my best ideas and my best plans always arrive as a result of talking it out – it’s not always a deliberative, focused process either. The synergy (hate to use that overused word, but there it is) of exchanging ideas and hearing them develop out loud is so much more effective for me…

    1. Thanks John. I think it is important that each of us use a variety of methods to find our best creativity spaces (mental and physical). It usually is not as simple as simply one, nor even one at a time, but a synthesis of different formats. Thanks for the comment. Stuart

  2. I read the NYT article as saying we need a more nuanced, or hybrid, approach to creativity. We need to not sacrifice privacy for complete group think. So, one isn’t necessarily better than the other, but each requires it’s space. Conversation is great. But sometimes intimidation and insecurity can silence some and catalyze others. Dan Gilbert tends to have people write in groups, and then share, rather than beginning with a spoken opinion. This is a safe way to emote and think – and it also could allow for more genuine expression for those who are swayed by the influence of others. . .which, while I wish wasn’t true, has been shown time and time again to be so. Thanks for the post and the link!

    1. Solid observations, Trilety. A hybrid approach is what has saved brainstorming, some argue, as a productive ideation tool, especially the use of immediate but anonymous group inputs. I also don’t think one technique is the complete answer, but that several techniques, especially those most suited to the person and the group context, should be implemented. Thanks for the comment. Stuart.

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