Innovation benefits from diverse inputs. As leaders we must search them out.
My friend David Staley discusses his concept of Universitas as a gathering of diverse minds to create and innovate. He is suggesting a space and place for innovators. The main purpose is to provide an opportunity for creative proximity – bridging domains and borrowing ideas from each.
David explained that the concept came to him when he heard an advertisement for eHarmony, the dating site that attempts to match compatible personalities. He was actually interested in the opposite of that.
As our diverse brains came together a new term came to my mind: Contracompatable.
Anthropologically we tend to gravitate to people that are like us. It’s comfortable of course but also efficient because we can make assumptions about underlying beliefs and develop a short cut language.
As leaders rise within the organizational structure access to the leader becomes more and more limited. A process comes into play where the leader has to listen to a small group of advisors.
This is most obvious when we look at the US presidency. The limited access, guarded by the Chief of Staff, creates a cut-throat jockeying to get inside the bubble. The bubble can insulate the President from the reality of the constituency the President was elected to serve.
On a smaller scale could you be in a bubble?
In a recent innovation session re-imagining schools, the group included an architect who builds schools, a psychologist, a former teacher, a doctoral candidate studying creativity education, a retired intellectual, a graphic designer and myself. The age and sex demographics also spanned the spectrum.
I listened closely for the bias in each idea, including my own. How this group dealt with other group member’s bias was interesting. There were a number of blended combination ideas. The blended solutions were much stronger than what may have come from a group of school administrators working on the same problem. If this group was on a dating site we would be considered contracompatible but for the purpose of innovation it was extremely valuable.
A day of contracompatability
With holiday gatherings coming up there will be many opportunities for diverse gatherings. For example, on an upcoming Saturday I have a dinner scheduled which includes the CEO of a multi-national company, a hospital administrator, a call center employee, and a retired sales executive. Some are staunch conservatives others deeply liberal. Age ranges from my age to 20 years older.
Earlier in the day I’ll be with a former university hockey coach and a landscaper. I’m interested in what this brew may spark in my thinking. Who knows what will happen? That’s what contracompatibility is all about.
To do this week: Gather a very diverse group of resources together to discuss an issue. The group should involve various levels of experience and background. Note the flavor of ideas that pop out of the discussion.