Want more innovation? Slow down and collide



I hear it all the time.

“I want the first mover advantage.”

“This is the time to get funding. The market is hot.”

“I've set up the next six months to test out my idea.”

“I'm pouring everything I have into this new idea to see if it will work.”

If you've been around entrepreneurs as long as I have, you'll recognize these phrases. Maybe you've said them too. I know I have.

And yet, as I reflect on now almost twenty years of building new software products from scratch, I've discovered that few things that are really truly amazing happen:

  • on their first try.
  • within a few months.
  • with just one person.

Teams & Time

I'm a big fan of Steven Johnson, and he's looked at the issue of creativity and innovation. His research suggests that we need teams and time.

Good Ideas come from Collision

Johnson references the coffeehouses of old – where people could connect to chat and discuss ideas. Today I use Skype. I'm on at least one call a day, and more on weekends. Not because I have a great idea, but because I want to provide the sounding board for others' ideas.

At Pixar they call it plussing. It's the act of asking a question or adding an idea to an existing idea to make it better.

Johnson calls it colliding but there's nothing about the activity, as Pixar does it, that requires conflict. Sometimes it's as simple as asking, “What if…?”

Today was a collision of slides and WordPress

My friend Karim, is the CEO of VeloMedia. They're a company that does software development (and some mobile development) for large enterprises. He spent his morning talking with Natalie MacLees, who runs Purple Pen Productions. She's also the author of jQuery for Designers and recently did a presentation that was completely running in WordPress instead of PowerPoint (only no one knew because of her jQuery tricks).

From the sounds of it, their cup of coffee this morning was opportunistic. Two people who were in the same vicinity at roughly the same time. And so they got together to hang out for a bit. But the result was that it got Karim thinking about that jQuery presentation.

Later today I met with Karim and we started talking about it. Again, it wasn't on our agenda. Purely opportunistic. But either way, we were bouncing ideas around about it.

And that brought me home thinking about seoslides – a new plugin and solution for embedding presentations into WordPress (in a different way than Natalie had done). I've even upgraded to the Pro version to do more testing. (More on that later, when I finish testing).

Know what was absent in that rendition of my day?

As you read over that last section, did you catch that I had no agenda? No schedule? No specific driver for my day?

I did some reading, some writing, a couple of skype calls, and then I went to hang out with Karim. No agenda – just slowing down to collide. And the result was coming home to do more testing and check out new products.

It wasn't a fast day. It wasn't a “productive” day. But it was a day filled with collision that led to discovery and the creation of new ideas.

Are you slowing down?

There's an interesting bit of research about our vision. See, it turns out our peripheral vision is incredibly sensitive. We catch motion better when it's in our periphery than when it's right in front of us.

But when we're focused (like those initial quotes) and in our tunnel vision stage, we don't see much. We can't see much. And we can't experience all the rest around that could impact our ideas.

Slowing down and getting less focused, rather than more, is a bit counter-intuitive, I know. But in doing so, we give ourselves over to the quiet moments where we can sense (more than see) stuff in our periphery and let it impact us.

To do it, you need time. Non-agenda time.

Are you colliding?

I know I don't need to tell you this. I know you already know this.

Keeping your ideas to yourself is silly. And seriously ridiculous.

I've already told you I won't sign you NDA. But it's more than that. Few ideas are truly original. And few ideas are better off when they're only imagined by a single person.

You need people to give you the other part of your idea. The part that makes it better. Faster. Cheaper. Pick all three.

But you won't get it if you don't collide. You won't get it if you just keep everything to yourself.

So share your ideas. Look for people, not like you, and get their take. And listen. Seriously listen.

Find a mentor – or a set of them – and get their take. And listen to them. If they push back on your idea, it's often to help you make it better.