Thursday, October 22, 2009

Innovation: Collaboration has a multiplier effect.

I came across this article in the New Yorker and thought it to be a great collection of examples illustrating the benefits of collaboration.

The point of this article is that inventors stumble upon great inventions not because they are geniuses, but because they’ve been exposed to certain events and information that when tied together yield the Eureka moment. It illustrates this by reminding us about the multiple inventors of Calculus, the thermometer, but more interestingly, the inventors of the telephone.

Mr. Bell had filed his patent not years, months, or days before Mr. Gray, but rather a few hours before. It turns out both of these inventors were exposed to similar concepts and information and both came upon the Eureka moment at the same time. This pattern of multiple inventors is seen throughout history and is a reinforcement of the theory that inventors are normally not geniuses, but rather people who have the right collection of information at the right time.

The article uses the example of a company called Intellectual Ventures founded by Nathan Myhrvold from Microsoft and funded heavily by Bill Gates. This company was created to invent. The formula was to form a discussion group of individuals with multiple backgrounds; doctors, engineers, lawyers, and businessmen which collectively held different sets of information and thus could collaborate on different subjects. The result: IV generates hundreds of patents each year.

The moral of the story is that unless you have a genius amongst your R&D staff, the best bet you have at succeeding in innovation is gathering individuals with different backgrounds and have them discuss a topic or challenge. This will give you the multiplier effect and you will be guaranteed to find the Eureka moments much quicker and more frequently.

Link to the article:

In The Air: Who says big ideas are rare? By Malcolm Gladwell

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