Have you ever wondered how innovation first begins? Does it actually have a starting point? I would offer the idea that it does. Innovation begins when we mix experiences with other experiences. Like combining different colors of paint, the moment the colors touch each other a new color is introduced. So, the next obvious question is how do we mix different experiences in order to create something new?
When I was working with one of my mentors a few years back she introduced me to the idea of something called the third quarter phenomenon. It’s the idea that when a group of people get together for a given period of time their interactions become significantly visible during the third quarter. Her research suggests that the greater the difference in experiences the greater are the chances that the third quarter phenomenon will be more significantly influenced. When we apply this theory to innovation we could essentially improve our opportunity to increase innovative ideas.
For example, let’s imagine that we assemble two groups of people (team Alpha and team Omega). We decide that team Alpha is going to be comprised of people from similar backgrounds, education, and social experiences. We then decide that team Omega will be comprised of people from completely different backgrounds, different education, and different social experiences. Just to make communication a little easier we agree that both teams speak English as their common language. Let’s also agree that each team will be given the same amount of time to complete a task that is similar in all aspects. As the teams begin planning their strategy to complete the task team Alpha takes off like a rabbit racing the turtle as they lead the race to complete the assigned task. However, team Omega is off to a slow start as they struggle to understand each other’s communication styles.
As you might expect, team Alpha is able to anticipate each of their team member’s actions because they seem to almost intuitively know what the other is about to do. Because of their ability to understand each other at the start of the project, they are able to find quick solutions that will help them complete their task. On the other hand, team Omega struggles with understanding their teammates. Although they understand their exchange of words, they experience a hard time understanding the unspoken meanings behind each of their teammate’s expressions. Team Omega is forced to pay more attention to understanding each other’s perspectives which results in slowing down their efforts.
However, research has shown that as both teams approach the third quarter time of their task, team Alpha begins to make errors in judgement, assumptions, and individual conclusions. Team Alpha begins to break down in frustration and motivation slows as the fear of failure begins to take hold. On the other side, team Omega has worked out their communication styles, learned to understand each other’s underlying meanings, and they work at combining their experiences in order to compromise solutions to complete the task at hand. They began to pull ahead of team Alpha, as team Omega’s communication continues to improve.
So where did the innovation take place? I would suggest that the innovative opportunity took place when team Omega began understanding how to communicate effective and then offering solutions to solve the assigned task. During their exchange of ideas influenced by their unique life experiences and the need to clearly explain and communicate their ideas to their teammates, team Omega was able to combine their experiences (the paint) and develop innovative solutions (the new color) that would lead them to completing their task.
When you’re looking to be more innovative I recommend that you seek out others who have different points of view. Then, when working toward a common goal, be open to combining different experiences to find a solution.
Author: Dr. Eduardo Diaz, helping you exceed expectations.