“Consensus kills innovation” – a striking title from an article I came across on Forbes. The writer made a compelling argument against the negative ways we attribute the value of our own ideas to the approval of others. We do it in our everyday lives and in the businesses we work for - suggesting ideas to a committee of trusted associates and holding meetings for every key decision. It is easy to feel confident in an environment where everyone agrees with your ideas, but does the dynamic of an overly positive group actually stifle innovation? In our industry, I can see organisations I admired for being innovative a few years ago, becoming tunnel-visioned in their thinking. They may be investing - but they are not innovating.
Not all ideas are good ideas
I believe humans are at their happiest and most natural when sharing ideas, supported by an empowering culture. This is not only good for individuals, but also benefits the organisations they work in – driving team engagement and encouraging collaborative working.
At CPA Global we are certainly investing. We have spent more than $30 million a year for the last three years on technology R&D. As I said, this alone does not guarantee innovation and, through our targeted M&A programme, we also look for new industry-leading capabilities to add to our business. The arrival of new colleagues - outstanding people with fresh, modern and different ideas - creates a terrific environment to challenge the status quo. Finally, we are working tirelessly on creating an empowering culture - one of our four values is to “have a pioneering spirit” – to nourish these ingredients of innovation to keep us at the forefront of our industry.
Any organisation looking to grow and evolve will need to create an environment that supports a challenging thinking and ideas. They have to allow everyone to feel comfortable, confident and secure enough to share new, crazy – even bad – ideas when working towards the common goal of finding a good one. This is easier said than done, but the rewards are huge for everyone.
Some of the best innovations in the world were born from the minds of solo inventors who were not looking to please but to make a change or disrupt. The article summed it up brilliantly when it said, “consensus feels safe” and “this biological fact can often lead groups to a premature agreement, leaving more interesting ideas or approaches unexplored”. Innovative companies create an environment with the right balance. People can share an idea and have it critiqued without feeling unfairly judged.
A little dissent never hurt anyone
There are certain rules companies can follow to get the most out of brainstorming: keep meetings short and targeted; move the meeting out of the traditional office setting; or ‘give your idea some legs’ and boost creativity by walking. Apple’s Steve Jobs swore by walking around barefoot in meetings to “open the free flow of ideas”.
While inciting dissent is not advisable, hiring people who are not afraid to argue with a suggestion can introduce a freshness to brainstorming sessions that will push people and ideas forward. If you are looking to create innovation, you need someone on hand to identify holes in your idea, help plug them, bring forward alternate ideas and encourage others in the group to share honest opinions. The main goal is not to question the “why,” but the “how.”
It is important to remember that the creative process should not be bound by rules – social or otherwise. The very point of innovation is to effect positive change and we should remember this when making any key business decisions.