Sunday, April 21, 2013


Innovation is often the result of random conversations -- collisions -- where ideas outside your industry are applied to your own.  We want to acccelerate those collisions among people.  Tony Hsieh, CEO Zappos

I’ve been challenging the leaders with whom I am doing executive coaching to think differently about how to generate new ideas and creative solutions.  Too often, we default to traditional sources such as discussion with peers or attendance at industry or trade group events.  Not that these are bad things but, if this is the only exposure to different ways of thinking, don’t be surprised when we find ourselves limited to traditional solutions.  We need to seek out collisions.

Several years ago, my brother introduced me to Fast Company magazine.  With heavy components of design, IT, and sustainability, it was not really connected to my own profession (at the time military engineering).  But, I am quite certain that I took some idea from every issue and have been a loyal subscriber for almost 15 years now.  I find the same thing in Inc. magazine, a periodical devoted to entrepreneurs and creativity in business.  I’ve got stacks of pages I have ripped out, saving for some later use.  I am quite certain my military teams benefitted from these ideas, all from quite different settings.
Whatever it might be, we need collisions.  I have been to a few of my buddy Steve’s monthly Ripple sessions.  These are networking groups in Austin with amazing diversity, people with whom I would otherwise never meet, yet ideas I would most certainly be a fool to miss.  These events (Steve calls them Ripples) generate collisions – with people, ideas, and concepts different than my own.  They may not be perfectly aligned with what I do but they may be enough to move my thinking in a direction I otherwise may never choose.

The same can be said for the relationships we make and the friends we collect.  We need to be intentional about seeking out people and ideas different from our own.  The dialogue may not change our perspective but it will most certainly help strengthen our arguments, identify weaknesses in our positions, and cause us to examine our assumptions.  Two of my dearest friends could not be further from me politically.  Yet, every time I am with them, I am inspired by their passionate convictions and the energy they have for what they do.  They both make me think and for those collisions, I am thankful. 
Finally, leaders are responsible for creating collisions within their organizations.  From the April 2013 Inc. magazine, “Teams produce many more ideas when team members are encouraged to challenge one another in a debate setting, according to a 2004 study in The European Journal of Social Psychology.”  Co-author of the study, Jack Goncalo, a professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, says that debate “makes people diverge, so it reduces conformity.  It also fosters competition.”  Leaders seek opportunities for this sort of healthy debate in meetings and when evaluating alternatives for solving problems.  These collisions, not between people but among competing ideas, are exactly what we need in our organizations to help break the mold and broaden our thinking.

As leaders, we cannot allow ourselves to be satisfied with the status quo.  We must keep growing, keep developing.  Sometimes, a good, solid collision is exactly what we need.
Let’s commit to collisions today.  Subscribe to a magazine, pick up a book, or join a group that is different than your norm.  Generate some healthy debate in your meetings.  Get outside of your comfort zone.  Do yourself a favor though.  Have a pen and paper handy.  You never know when one of those collisions might be a game-changer.  That’s LeaderBusiness.  

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