Coaching Extraordinary Innovation From Ordinary People

Last Updated May 6, 2010 11:31 AM EDT

In an excellent blog post on the concept of leading from behind, Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill emphasizes that innovation in the modern organization is a team sport. The iPad was not something created by one engineer in a Jolt Cola haze at 2 a.m. Hill writes:
"Those in positions of authority have been taught to think that it's their job to come up with the big idea -- but sustained innovation comes when everyone has an opportunity to demonstrate a 'slice of genius'.... Breakthroughs come when seemingly ordinary people make extraordinary contributions."
Here's the key question. What are the capabilities that you as a manager must instill in your organization to create sustainable, team driven innovation?

The first step, Hill says, is building a community around innovation, with a common purpose, values and rules of engagement. The next step is baking in three organizational capabilities:

  1. Creative abrasion. This is the ability to generate ideas through intellectual discourse and debate.
  2. Creative agility. The ability to test and refine ideas through quick pursuit.
  3. Creative resolution. Hill terms this the ability to make decisions in an integrative manner.
How innovation teams can be built, motivated, and sustained over time is an emerging area of business management research. What do you think spurs a team to great invention?

(Innovation image by ell brown, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.