In a recent HBR blog ‘Collaboration Is the New Competition‘ author Ben Hecht suggests that;
“Leaders and organizations are acknowledging that even their best individual efforts can’t stack up against today’s complex and interconnected problems. They are putting aside self-interests and collaborating to build a new civic infrastructure to advance their shared objectives. It’s called collective impact and it’s a growing trend across the country”.
Living and working in Israel, the ‘start-up nation’ within a connected and entrepreneurial culture has alerted me to this very powerful shift towards collaboration and the whole networking paradigm. The leader as a collaborative connector is now a key enabler of innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish. It was during the research and development process involved in compiling one of my free webinars -‘Leading for Innovation’ that I realized that the leadership context has shifted further beyond navigating and forming political and strategic alliances, to now expand their role further and become ‘connectors!’
Making connections enables leaders to lead and make fluid decisions in an age of upheaval!
Many of us are aware that we live within an interconnected world, enabled by technology, yet how many of us realize the deep implications and enact the possibilities and opportunities this connectedness allows us? As individuals, many of us are making Friends on Facebook, acquiring serious business contacts via Linked In, sharing our thoughts on blogs on Tumblr, posting pictures we love on Pinterst and Flickr. This is only the tip of the ‘connections iceberg’ affecting the social revolution exploding in creativity and diversity of thought and ideas. It is, in fact redefining how we communicate, interact and develop relationships with one another, both personally and professionally.
How does this relate to innovation and leadership in the 21st century?
An innovative leader is an inherent ‘connector’ who confidently, courageously and compassionately networks across differing and diverse teams, business units, fields and multiple disciplines. They create coalitions of networks by seeking people’s ideas and input through a range of novel and interactive channels to:
• Harness and maximize difference and diversity of thought, ideas and solutions in organic and autonomous ways to elicit the ‘out of the box’ thinking that affects change and innovation.
• Create increased speed and agility to deal with strategic issues and threats, to solve business dilemmas and wicked problems with the intent of transforming them into opportunities and innovative solutions.
• Mobilize and leverage people’s knowledge, skills and experience to solve generative challenges that cross multiple disciplines, geographies, industries and systems to promote global, regional or corporate sustainability, growth or value.
Developing an innovative culture requires focusing on connections!
Networking initiatives enable organizations to make the collective impact Hecht states in his article; they are required to make deeper connections internally as the knowledge, skills and experience of any company is inside the heads and hearts of their people. They are connecting externally with their end users, to harness their aspirations towards improving their experience to promote advocacy and retain their loyalty. They are connecting systemically with the key players in their value chains, to improve efficiencies and increase speed to market.
Additionally some of the most innovative organizations have adopted an ecosystem perspective as a way of flowing with, rather than resisting, global chaos and uncertainty. They use innovative social technologies to engage and collaborate across private, public and social sectors to promote sustainability, reduce costs, increase business value or growth and increase competitiveness.
The Medici Effect and creating breakthrough ideas
In his groundbreaking book, ‘The Medici Effect’ author Frans Johansson describes a fascinating journey to “‘the intersection’: a place where ideas and concepts from diverse industries, cultures, departments, and disciplines collide, ultimately igniting an explosion of ideas leading to extraordinary innovations.”
Breakthrough ideas are most often ‘intersectional’ and occur when we bring concepts from one field into a new, unfamiliar territory, often through collaborating and connecting.
Some simple networking tips!
Networking is a learnable skill set – to initiate and develop this vital skill set leaders can build a foundational growth mindset focusing on adaptiveness, possibility and collaboration. They can then embody and enact a courageous, confident, compassionate, generous and curious way of be-ing in putting ourselves ‘out there’ in the world because it’s about:
1. Taking the attention off ‘me’ and paying deep attention (being focused, open minded and present to the whole system) to the ‘other’ you are interacting with.
2. Knowing how to listen generatively (very deeply and from the whole system) for possibilities that are present in the conversation, group or presentation.
3. Knowing how to ask deep and powerful generative questions that disrupt and provoke peoples thinking, capture their attention and facilitate options, opportunities and answers to questions that you could not have possibly conceived on your own.
Networking creates these vital and paradigm shifting intersections and exposes us to a range of creative opportunities and possibilities. This enables us to sense the random ‘bits and pieces’ that help develop the ‘associational muscle’ to perceive different worldviews and enact the world differently. The more diverse knowledge the brain possesses the more connections it can make when given fresh inputs of knowledge and experience this because our brain synthesizes and makes sense of novel inputs. These fresh inputs trigger the association that lead to imaginative ideas and also creates a powerful supplement to data when working through a problem.
Innovative leaders use networking to explore the seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas to create breakthroughs at the intersections of diverse disciplines & fields. This leads to the discovery of new directions, paradigm shifts and inflection points, resulting in the Medici Effect-which is of course what innovation is all about!
image credit: blogher.com
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Janet Sernack gained her consulting, education, facilitation, training and executive coaching skills, from 30 years experience in manufacturing, retailing and learning and development businesses to Australia’s and Israel’s’ top 100 companies. She resides in Israel where she founded a start-up, ImagineNation™ that teaches innovative leadership and start-up entrepreneurship via The Start-Up Game™.