Stephen Shapiro explains why open innovation is the new paradigm of work

Stephen Shapiro explains the thinking behind open creativity and why he wrote a book and created a card deck called Personality Poker.

Interview # 21 in the Creativity in Business Thought Leader Series is with Stephen Shapiro, one of the foremost authorities on innovation culture, collaboration, and open innovation. Stephen is an author, consultant, speaker, and the Chief Innovation Evangelist for InnoCentive, a pioneer in the burgeoning field of open innovation.

Over the years, Stephen has shared his innovative philosophy in books such as 24/7 Innovation, The Little Book of BIG Innovation Ideas and Goal-Free Living – a manifesto on how to increase your creativity by not being so hyper-focused on your goals. Shapiro’s work has been featured in Newsweek, Investor’s Business Daily, Entrepreneur Magazine, O – The Oprah Magazine, The New York Times, and other prestigious publications. His clients include Staples, GE, BP, Johnson & Johnson, Fidelity Investments, Pearson Education, Nestlé, and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

His latest creation, Personality Poker, has been used by more than 25,000 people around the world to create high-performing innovation teams. It hits the book stores on October 28th and is a “game” that improves the performance of innovation teams by encouraging divergent thinking.

How does your work relate to creativity?

Shapiro: My life is about creativity and innovation. I help individuals and organizations connect the dots; that is, make connections between ideas, experiences, people, departments, and companies. For example, in my role as Chief Innovation Evangelist for InnoCentive, I help organizations leverage Open Innovation as a tool for connecting to “solvers” and solutions that exist outside of their organization. My passion is connecting the dots between people by encouraging new collaboration models that might not occur naturally.

What do you see as the new paradigm of work?

Shapiro: In the past, transactional work was outsourced (e.g., manufacturing or finance). But now even creative endeavors are being sent to external partners. Open innovation is providing new methods for finding solutions. If you want a solution to a problem you are working on, you are no longer limited to the expertise within your organization. You can now tap into a diverse group of experts who have experience across many disciplines. And the cost associated with some open innovation models is driven by the value received, not by the time invested. This ensures higher returns on investment.

What do you see the role of creativity in that paradigm?

Shapiro: Open innovation, when done successfully, truly encourages creative thinking. The reason is, it is perfect for helping to connect the dots across disciplines. For example, an oil spill recover problem (from the Exxon Valdez spill) was solved by someone from the construction industry. NASA solved a solar flare prediction challenge by tapping into someone in the cell phone industry. And a potato chip manufacturer found a way to reduce the fat in their chips from a musician. As I like to say, if you are working on an aerospace engineering challenge and you have 100 aerospace engineers working on it, adding the 101st will not make that much of a difference. But if you add a biologist, a chemist, or a musician, you might just find some breakthrough solutions.

What values and behaviors do you see as essential for effectively navigating the new work paradigm?

Shapiro: Before you can be open externally, you need to be open internally. This means you need to become more effective at connecting the dots with the people inside your four walls. Unfortunately, most organizations suffer from “chronic sameness” – the innovation-restricting disease in where commonality is valued above individuality. Contrary to conventional wisdom, opposites do NOT attract. Organizations are designed to be efficient which means that “fitting the mold” is critical. But this kills creativity.

This is why I created Personality Poker – it is the cure for chronic sameness. Innovation only occurs when multiple points of view are encouraged, valued, and utilized. Therefore, it is useful to get people to seek out the person who is their “opposite” – that is the person whose style is different yet complementary to their. For example, creative individuals might seek out planners while analytical people might seek out more emotional, intuitive individuals.

What is one approach that people could start applying today to bring more creativity into their work or their business organization?

Shapiro: In Personality Poker, we identify four key principles for creating high-performing innovation teams. One is to “play with a full deck.” That is, make sure you have a balance of different innovation styles in your organizations. Here are some principles that can help you create a full deck:

Hire in pairs: Build diversity into your hiring process by hiring opposites at the same time. For example, when you hire a good project manager, hire a strong creative individual.

Ignore the golden rule: Don’t treat people the way YOU want to be treated, treat them the way THEY want to be treated.

Provide feedback based on style: Praise individuals based on their style. For example, praise a creative individual for their new ideas, and praise planners for their “on-time, on-budget attitude.”

Balance your meetings: Meetings have “personalities,” too. For every brainstorming session, have status meetings. For every customer data analysis meeting, hold a talent engagement meeting.

Balance your leadership: Make sure that your leadership team has multiple points of view. Balance your bottom-line, operationally-driven leader with a creative, innovation-driven leader.

Finally, what is creative leadership to you?

Shapiro: Leadership that encourages creativity. When this happens, leaders inspire others to be leaders. They create an environment where each individual feels and acts like they are an owner of the business. Connecting the dots between individuals, departments and organizations becomes natural.

In the end, it is less about new products, new processes, new services, or even new business models. The key is to create an organization that can adapt, evolve, and change repeatedly and rapidly. This is the only sustainable business model.

The Creativity in Business Thought Leader Interview Series is developed and conducted by business creativity catalyst, Michelle James, CEO of The Center for Creative Emergence and founder of Quantum Leap Business Improv.

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