3 Ways to Build a Culture of Collaborative Innovation

By Kate Isaacs and Deborah Ancona
November 20, 2020

All organizations have the ability to be smarter than the sum of their members’ intelligence and talent. Unfortunately, most are actually dumber. The good news is there are a handful of practical steps to boost collective intelligence.

CREATE TOOLS THAT ALLOW EVERYONE TO COMMUNICATE STRATEGICALLY ABOUT INNOVATION: Good ideas can come from all corners of a company, but would-be innovators may need help developing a strong strategic argument.

What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon. How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice? What is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful? If you are successful, what difference will it make? What are the risks? How much will it cost? How long will it take? What are the midterm and final “exams” that will allow you to measure success?

VET AND REFINE IDEAS COLLECTIVELY AND CONTINUOUSLY: In nimble organizations, innovation ideas aren’t reviewed once or twice a year by a senior committee. Instead, they undergo a constant process of review, refinement and — if necessary — death. The goal is for only the best ideas to survive.

BUST THROUGH BARRIERS THAT BLOCK INNOVATION: Most organizations have regular procedures for leaders to determine which new projects should get funded and who will be assigned to them. But at nimble organizations, leadership is flipped upside down. The job of top leaders is to serve people who are close to the market. They do whatever they can to clear the way for promising new projects and get innovation teams the resources they need.

Using these three practices, companies can harness the insights and energy of all their people through a collective “prediction market,” in which innovation ideas are examined, improved and pushed forward by the many, not the few. An innovation prediction market makes many small bets on new ideas, only a few of which will pan out after intensive collective vetting.


Kate Isaacs is a research affiliate at the MIT Leadership Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.

Deborah Ancona is a professor of management and the founder of the MIT Leadership Center.

Copyright 2019 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.


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