Hill recently co-authored Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, which takes an in depth look at exceptional leaders of innovation across the world. The book examines why some organisations innovate again and again but others simply cannot. It is the result of a decade-long study of some of the most innovative firms in the world, including Pixar, Google, Volkswagen and IBM.
As Hill explains, simply recruiting people with talent will not guarantee innovation. Every organisation needs to create an environment in which the genius of every individual is naturally drawn out. There will inevitably be tension where ideas and passions clash but it is precisely this context in which innovation will be produced. Creativity must be present at every level of an organisation in order to “create magic” and find the collective genius.
Taking Pixar and the film ‘Toy Story’ as an example, Hill explores the many layers of creativity and describes the act of innovation and creativity as a ‘team sport’. The collective innovation process will be complex - in every Pixar film, there are up to 250 people offering their suggestions at any one time. However, the final product will be seamless and appear to tell the work of one “master storyteller”. While the process is dense, the final product will be flawless and simple.This is a mirror of the task that every business faces with organisational innovation – the ability to produce “a coherent work of singular collective genius from the diverse slices of genius contributed by all the individuals involved.”
This sounds like a challenge…
It is a challenge that organisations face over and over again – how to build a business that is able to consistently innovate? Both the environment and the leaders must create a unique space in which the creative potential is unleashed. It is not a case of ‘I lead, you follow’. Instead, business leaders must create a context in which everyone is free and able to innovate as well as share their own unique vision (as opposed to trying to fulfill a leader’s ideals).
As Hill explains, “If the problem calls for a truly original response, no one can decide in advance what that response should be.” It’s not easy. Innovation requires consistent hard work and the ability and desire to problem solve. It can be a lengthy and arduous process that might often feel unfamiliar and forced. This is why, Hill argues, it requires a skilled leader as the friction that clashing ideas creates can prove uncomfortable. But disagreement is inevitable if we are to give people the freedom to express themselves; to take a risk and ultimately create the best ideas and solutions.
Let’s make the magic happen
Whilst ideas must be given the space to be heard and then developed, leaders must also ensure that a sense of both reality and urgency is in place to keep things grounded. It is crucial to create an atmosphere of willingness in which employees “share a sense of purpose, values, and rules of engagement.”
Hill explores the example of Luca de Meo, head of Marketing Communications at Volkswagen. He came into a fragmented workforce where creativity was limited to those who had it in their job title. So he went about establishing a sense of community along the idea that “everyone at a world-class company has to be an innovator, a strategist, a global thinker.” He recognised that in order to produce a company that is able to consistently innovate, it was first necessary to establish fluidity, understanding, trust and respect across boundaries.
Building a collective identity and shared values and establishing rules of engagement helps with this. So does the creation of cross-functional teams, mutual trust and integrated marketing strategies. All of these were methods employed by de Meo in his journey towards a collective genius. De Meo’s example, Hill explains, is an example of exceptional leadership in action. His comprehensive approach included the ability to turn every change and development, however mundane, into another step in building a community.
Along with promoting and encouraging creative agility and resolution, this is a winning formula. Every organisation is able to build the ability to innovate. With the collective genius, innovation will become part of the fabric of a business.
To quote another rather creative mind, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”