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Cris Beswick

Author, Speaker + Strategic Advisor on Innovation

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Hermits don’t Innovate!

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Where do ideas come from? According to writer Neil Gaiman ideas come from daydreaming, from asking yourself simple questions or from combining two things which haven’t been put together before. Perhaps more importantly Neil also believes that ideas are only starting points to creating something special.

But whether daydreaming, asking questions or looking for conjunctions, for me the important bedrock of innovation is that ideas are incremental; building on processes and experiences and interactions. Look behind every ‘eureka’ moment and you’ll find a catalyst; look behind every philosophy and you’ll find a development or rejection or ideas already in existence; look behind every great work and there in the background are people or events which have influenced its creation.

Set someone to live in a cave at the top of a mountain and whilst they may come up with some interesting thoughts on the nature of spirituality, unless they can share them with others, they might as well not have bothered. Put someone in an anechoic chamber and switch the light off and whether or not they are affected by the experience, unless we open the door and talk to them we’ll never know. 

The fact is that man is a social animal and interactions form the lifeblood of our past and continuing development. So why is it that in some circles the word networking has taken on a negative connotation? I suspect that a large part of the blame can be laid at the door of enforced business practice. ‘Network more’ is almost a must-have on the appraisal form in many industries. And far too often networking more means late nights or lost weekends as bunches of shy or exhausted employees stand round and attempt to make small talk whilst remembering not to give away company secrets.

But it shouldn’t be like that. Replace the negative connotation and networking becomes interacting, chatting, sharing ideas and bouncing thoughts around. Networking in short becomes the lifeblood of creating something special and it is through networking that innovation and creation become possible. In their new book The Innovator’s DNA, the authors Jeff Dyer, Hal Gergersen, and Clayton M. Christensen identify the five practices, which distinguish successful disruptive innovators such as Steve Jobs from everyone else.  Networking sits within these five practices alongside associating, questioning, observing and experimenting.

Take a look at any one of the world’s most successful innovation organisations and you can quickly see these five practices in action.  Whether through creating shared spaces, offering in-house dining, opening up sports facilities or chill-out zones, these organisations create the conditions which promote interaction, collaboration and networking. So Google’s offices and cafes have been designed to encourage interaction whilst Zappos’ four key attributes for happy employees and customers includes connectedness – having strong social ties.

Quite simply, networking equals sharing and leads to creation. Whether with departmental colleagues or with industry peers, with others in our organisation or with complete strangers when we network we have the power to create something exceptional. But when we fail to share, we become bogged down in a morass of nothingness. 

And sharing means far more than standing up and lecturing people in the way you want them to behave. One of my prime tasks when I coach CEOs and leadership teams on innovation is to map out innovation pathways which open up dialogue and develop innovation enthusiasms across the workforce. Only when accountants speak with salespeople and frontline employees share experiences with IT developers can true innovation pathways open up. So networking isn’t just a way of collecting lots of business cards or of pumping the opposition for secrets; rather it is a pathway to the creation of greatness.

Hermits don’t innovate, networkers do. If you want to sit in isolation, that’s fine but don’t expect any progress. If you want to create a culture, which embraces innovation and leads to exceptional customer experiences and competitive advantage then start talking; you’ll be surprised where it could lead.

If you’ve got a question on innovation feel free to email Cris at [email protected] or visit www.crisbeswick.com for more information on how Cris and his team help some of the worlds smartest companies succeed through innovation.

One Response

  1. Innovation

    Not sure about this idea hermits don't innovate.  I am aware that throughout history, and indeed the author acknowledges such, many great innovations have begun in someone's head when they have been far removed from the clamouring crowds of networkers. 

    I guess it depends on which part of the innovation cycle is being addressed.

    ………….and once again it seems the notion that innovation applies only to those "light-bulb" moments, but overlooks the fact  many innovative ideas have emerged from identifying a small improvement in a process or product that regardless of the size or amount of the improvement produces substantial gains.  So let's recognize and applaud the blokes on the shop floor or in the office who happen upon a simple suggestion and chat with their mates at smoko time rather than requiring them to "network".

    Cheers.  DonR.

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Cris Beswick

Author, Speaker + Strategic Advisor on Innovation

Read more from Cris Beswick
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