A culture of innovation values questions over answers

One day my eye was caught by an ant crawling in circles on our bathroom floor. Around and around it went, expecting, I guess, to come upon a chemical trail laid down by ants who’d gone before.

I left the room thinking a routine would eventually have to kick in to make the ant try something new, such as head in a straight line, like a Roomba. Ten minutes later I returned to check. Nope – still circling.

Had my ant struck out in a new direction without the benefit of a blazed trail, he could have starred in this post as an example of innovation in nature. Alas, his story ends here.

Ants are stupid individually, but they are awfully successful in large groups. Are humans the opposite? Innovation is expected to come from lone disruptors, or very small teams. We assume large groups suffer from inertia, trudging in circles, starved for new ideas and stymied by a need for consensus.

I see it differently. I’d venture that in Advancement, innovation manifests itself in collaboration. The lone genius whipping up the new app that upends an industry is not something you’re going to find in our world. (For one thing, we don’t disrupt – we are being disrupted.)

For an organization to become innovative it needs to change the way individuals in the organization relate to one another. Such a change is suggested by author Warren Berger in his book, “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.” The fostering of a “culture of inquiry” encourages us to look beyond constraints and assumptions and make the creative associations between concepts that lead to fresh ideas.

The future lies in asking more and better questions, not starting with answers. Organizations of any size are capable of it.

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