Similarly, great people in those companies often have a natural empathy for their customers - they may not always know them as well as they think (so we have to test ideas with customers) but there is a collective intelligence built up in organisations that has kept their customers for decades or hundreds of years.
I think particularly if people have worked across different types of sectors and companies, they can bring in all of those different experiences, without necessarily being an expert in those sectors. Marry the two together - the specialist expertise and capability of an organisation and that outside-in perspective and you can really unlock the ideas that are already there.
What have you seen in terms of teams working together really well and how do you go about building teams that work in that way?
It can be tempting to focus too much on a very functional mix of team roles (someone from finance, marketing, tech, creative design, HR, etc), or the day-to-day ‘treats’ of a project room well resourced with tools, toys, drinks and snacks (nothing wrong with those if you enjoy them!). But the best teams form from more thought about bringing the right combination of characters, talents, thinking, purpose and motivation from clients and their partners.
There’s a Matthew Syed book recently published called Rebel Ideas, which gives lots of examples of the importance of diverse thinking. It can feel like the wrong word but we talk about ‘casting’ teams with a good blend of different life experience, work, skills and I thinking styles - but I also talk about hungry teams: putting people together who have a motivation to make something work.
If you put ten people in a room and tell them to innovate, and if those ten people are already busy with exciting projects, or already brilliantly rewarded, or at a stage in their career where they’re not looking to do anything new, it’s not going to work.
You need people who are - for different reasons - wanting to prove what they can do next, because true innovation involves the tenacity to get past the barriers and get over the obstacles you will have along the way. If it were easy to make it real, anyone would have done it already.
There’s always the danger of recruiting people in our own image, people who share the same interests, people who think like you. I like the phrase ‘culture add’ rather than ‘culture fit’.
Working with people from other countries, for example, means everyone can bring different life experience. But even if it’s an international team, if everyone has been to the same kind of schools or universities, tend to play the same sports or thinks the same way, it might feel less threatening, but it’s not going to produce the best results over time. Group-think, a fixed culture can be dangerously limiting. Matthew Syed gives the example of the lack of diversity in US intelligence in the lead up to 9/11.
It’s a delicate balance between people who can quickly bond from common interests (a natural human instinct), and the risk that an initial connection is superficial. Nothing goes deeper than people who aren’t the same, but who’ve overcome tough challenges together and made it through.