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3 Sep 2012

Creative Innovation (Pt 6): People Mix

This entry is part 6 of 18 in the series Creative Innovation

The right people mix places a key role in promoting a creative, innovative culture.

In previous posts of this series, I covered accepting disruptive personalities, allowing spontaneity and creating conditions for interactions. Underlying these are people. These are processes akin to cooking; thus, people are the ingredients. What mix, what proportions, how much of each ingredient do we need? These are the questions now.

Unfortunately, it’s very easy to see people uniformly. There is not one ingredient. They are different individuals. Still, to facilitate our understanding and implementation, we require groupings.

Referring once again to Jonah Lehrer’s article, “Groupthink – The Brainstorming Myth” (The New Yorker, January 30, 2012 edition), he writes at length about Brian Uzzi’s (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University) work with Broadway musicals. Essentially, the people mix, promoting creativity and innovation the best, has two major attributes:

  • Base of people who are friends from previous work assignments
  • Significant proportions of people new to the group

This reinforces the importance of diversity and relationships for innovation in business today. This diversity isn’t necessarily one of demographics but of personalities and relationships. While the exact mix is unknown to us and likely varies, we do know group uniformity does hamper creativity and innovation. That’s why the introduction of a single, different personality into a highly uniform group can dramatically impact team intelligence.

Conversely, teams of strangers struggle initially to find how to best work with one another. Since this requires work, important relationships don’t grow and important interactions don’t occur. Again, this exemplifies the need to create conditions encouraging such interactions among strangers as well as friends.

The overall goal of this mix between friends and strangers, as Uzzi tells Lehrer, is to ensure people “were comfortable with each other, but they weren’t too comfortable.” As an example, adding dissenters to the people mix ensures groups don’t become too comfortable.


For elaboration on Brian Uzzi’s work, I suggest Jordan Ellenberg’s article, “Six Degrees of Innovation.”


Series Navigation<< Creative Innovation (Pt 5): Employees Running into Each OtherCreative Innovation (Pt 7): Conflict >>

1 Response

  1. Absolute worst has to be all friends. Whether business friends or personal friends, they will “remember back to previous and be biased because of what happened.” What’s needed is a real understanding of the objectives, a developing of hurdles anticipated (necessitating consideration of new topics as a result), and of course a “contract” or understanding of how things are going to be managed. While these may be more important among non-friends and while non-friends have less experience together, these are still quite important for friends working together and likely harder to accomplish.

    Not that anyone probably cares, the best solution is the mixed group is the best option.

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