How much new blood is required for innovation?

by Nicholas Skillicorn

How much new blood is required for innovation?

Have you ever wondered what it takes to keep teams coming up with breakthrough creative ideas, year after year? One of the secrets is in how often there is an influx of new talent into the team.

While it’s tempting to keep successful teams working together on project after project, after a while these teams begin to lose their edge. Over time, teams will begin to form habits based on their past successes. While this is extremely useful for teams that need to consistently produce high quality craft, it is much less helpful for teams who need to come up with original ideas. In fact, over time success can breed complacency, and in extreme cases can make team members more risk-averse to trying ideas which are different to what has worked for them in the past.

So it is important that every now and again, the makeup of a team changes when starting new innovation challenges. But just how much new blood is ideal? Brian Uzzi, Professor at Northwestern, wanted to see if there was a way to find out how similarities between creative teams and success could be measured. He found his desired dataset by looking at playbills from over 2000 Broadway musical productions, where long-term critical success requires a high degree of creativity.

Researchers have found a 50:50 ratio is about ideal

By coding which people were in each production over time, his team could spot how teams of people moved between productions over time. He could then give a rating of similarity for each production, based on the proportion of people who had worked together previously. This ratio was called Q. Finally, he assessed which shows could be counted as successful, based not only on critical reviews but on whether the shows were able to break even or even go on extended runs.

Using a 1 (all team members new to each other) to 5 (all production cast have moved project together) measurement scale, he found that a  Q below 1.6 was unlikely to be successful as team members had not yet developed a chemistry or could complement each other’s strengths. However, a Q above 3.4 was also likely to predict an inferior production. The ideal Q rating was about 2.6, which is about a 50%:50% ratio between existing team members and new blood.

So if you want to keep your innovation projects successful, its important that you put in place a system whereby people are moved between projects. This keeps teams fresh and ideas flowing.

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Nick SkillicornNick Skillicorn is an Innovation consultant and Creativity coach in London, and author of 30 Days of Creativity Training. Find out what Improvides can do for your organisation.

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