Why cross-disciplinary collaboration drives innovation

An oft missed point in Innovation is how to spur innovative thinking. If you are a busy corporate person, you are too engrossed in the daily grind to spend any meaningful time assimilating new inputs and mulling over the intersection of such inputs. The recent article in HBR by Whitney Johnson provides a workable solution for this challenge.

Innovation happens when we cultivate diversity and cross-disciplinary collaboration, when we play in the in-between. If you’ve learned a new language or lived in a foreign country for a time, you have likely experienced these kind of mind-opening lessons. This can, at times, feel very unpleasant, just as immersing myself in a new language and culture required a big move out of my normal way of living and thinking. But it’s this willingness to live in the unknown for a while that opens a space for truly new ideas. As you are attempting to collaborate, if it feels foreign and outside of your comfort zone, you just might be on the right track. Sprechen sie the language of innovation?

A perfect example of this is Dave Blakely, who began his career at IDEO as an engineer. He could have worked his way up to manage technical staff, but instead he volunteered to become a project manager. As Dave made the decision to move to the margin, many of his peers dismissed this an escape route from the rigor and detail of engineering. But by learning to associate himself with two different disciplines, Blakely broadened his skills, so that today he is the head of technology strategy at IDEO — a firm which by the way, has an ethos of managing on the margin.



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