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How Collaboration Turns Insight Into Innovation

How Collaboration Turns Insight Into Innovation

In a previous post, Thriving in a New Era Requires These Skills, I talked about how to create an environment that welcomes epiphanies. But that’s just the first step; the value of an epiphany doesn’t come from being hit by it, the value comes from what you do with the newfound enlightenment. Insight is worthless if it does not lead to change.

So how do we use those ah-ha moments and turn them into something real? Share them and see what happens!


When we discover meaning we must share it with others. Society’s greatest works of art, most memorable performances, and most innovative discoveries all come from people who were willing to be curious and vulnerable and unique, without fear of judgement. If we want to make positive impact on the world, we have to be willing to put ourselves and our ideas out there.

When we become overly concerned about being accepted, we act in ways we think others want us to, rather than acting in ways that are true to ourselves, our values, and our goals. When we try to please we not only risk misinterpreting what others want, but as Guy Kawasaki says, we only generate “good ideas…not our best. Ironically, when [companies] don’t get our best they are less likely to give us the acceptance we deserve.” (Reality Check, 2008) We become caught in a cycle of trying to prove ourselves and felling less worthy each time. However, when we let go of others’ judgement and share something that has meaning to us, we invite others to take risks too.

While lots of great ideas get shut down, some don’t. Having the confidence to put yourself out there means you will create opportunity. To quote Wayne Gretzky (as have many business leaders before me) “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Gain momentum

If we have a truly great idea, chances are we will have at least one other person who believes in it. (Side note: if you can’t find anyone else that thinks it’s a great idea, it’s probably not). 

Even though the idea probably (read: definitely) isn’t a fully formed plan, embracing what makes us passionate about the idea will draw in others who believe in us and our vision.

Momentum requires two things: mass and velocity.

When building mass behind an idea we need to intensely make connections, reaching out in all directions. Believing that we have something revolutionary to share should prompt us to look for related values everywhere. The more we look, the more we see. Elise Ballard, author of Epiphanies and Living a Life of Fulfillment, calls it Serendipity: “when the world conspires to support you.”

To generate velocity, we must identify the direction we want to go and then give the idea a push. Keeping a compass on hand is vital during this phase. A rapidly growing company has velocity, but so does a runaway train.

Build a way forward

Once we get our idea and we have some momentum behind it, we can’t just dust off our hands and walk away. This might work with an object in outer space, but on Earth we have the inevitable force of gravity. And just as gravity is persistently pulling down on objects, there are many forces that can bring down an idea: competition, changing trends, bad press, production cost, and the list goes on.

As Amy Whitaker puts it in her book Art Thinking, “Following patterns, rather than inventing new ones, will only get you so far. The people who devise those patterns didn’t have templates when they started.”

If we want our idea to incite change and persist in providing value, we must continue to mold it as we go. Challenges will certainly arise, and adaptations are of critical importance. This is is where design thinking comes into play. Designers know that the first idea is never the final product. They brainstorm and collaborate, they develop prototypes, they test, and many times they go back to the drawing board. Designers understand that innovation is not possible without failure. Trying something creative may mean that it doesn’t work, but that’s not how the story ends.

For those of us with great ideas who really want to make a change we must create opportunities, move in the right direction, and iterate as we grow. This means we need to take risks, honor our values, and embrace failure. It’s not easy, but it’s how change is made.

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