Juha Lipponen | 08.06.2011 | Show comments 21
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Gather different people to think!


Recently I facilited two innovation sessions with a customer, held consecutive days. The customer had specified a business and product development task for the innovation. The task was exactly the same for both groups. The participants were selected very differently in those groups: 1st group consisted of top of the line experts of the customer. The very best expertise and insight of that particular field was present, especially from R&D. The other group, on the other hand, consisted of a wide rainbow of different people, experience and backrounds: procurement, design, R&D, sales, junior professionals etc.

Take a guess which group resulted in better results in the ideation?

Yep. The second group produced, not only more innovative, but - maybe somewhat surprisingly - also more practical and feasible ideas. The experts in 1st group started immediately to engineer the details of their current products and businesses, whereas the variety group ideated more freely.

What this means? According to countless studies, diversity of participants is the key for better results especially when something new is targeted. It is notable, that also within "strict" and traditional engineering areas of expertise, variety of views, backgrounds and experiences is helpful in the search of new solutions.

What kind of experience do you have in working with teams of different level of diversity? Please comment!


innovation, innovative, ideation, business, products, development, diversity

21 kommentarer

Steen Koldsø | 08.06.2011 klo 16:04

Team diversity is one of the most important things to ensure when creating and developing great ideas!


Juha Lipponen | 08.06.2011 klo 16:14

Steen, thank you for your comment! I have also seen it many times. The dilemma of course is, that team managers often (unconsciously) surround themselves of self-clones when building their teams. Educated managers, however, deliberately build their teams on diversity.

Dariush Ghatan, | 08.06.2011 klo 17:09

cross functional, diverse, multy lateral thinkers is a prerequisit. Feedng the known with the unknown and putting the right resources around this, is also key, we have found

Chris | 08.06.2011 klo 17:22

Not surprising at all. Cross-functional teams that bring together diverse perspectives will always outperform the groupthink of "experts." At my company, Creative Realities Inc., we even go so far as to bring in what we call "naive creatives" - people with seemingly no relevance to the given industry or task. You would be surprised how often these people provide the key insight.

Juhani | 08.06.2011 klo 19:52

One thing one needs to remember is to have enough knowledge of the actual area at hand. Diversity, but also deep knowledge on the topic. I once had a session about service business with n
o service business knowledge. The ideas were often too obvious and things that had been already thought of. But the diversity is needed to get the ideas flying enough wide. Usually the wildest and craziest ideas turn out to be the best. Best innovations have one thing in common: scarcity. That needs to be the target and diversity is the enabler.

Juha Lipponen | 08.06.2011 klo 20:02

Thank you for your comments Dariush and Chris. You make the need of the diverisity of people in innovation sound so elementary.... Which is basically true for us innovation specialists. However, it is amazing how little the power of diversity is utilized in companies, as innovation groups still are being gathered most often among the "experts" alone. So what should we do to bring up the need of diversity (in addition to delivering the outsanding results as you well put it Chris)?

Chris, it was interesting to read of your experience of the "naive creatives"; in Innotiimi, we actually also have successfully used the innovation power of our own people, as providers of fresh thinking (= read: the official grazy guys:) among the ideation groups of the customer "experts"... :)

Juha Lipponen | 08.06.2011 klo 20:05

Juhani, a needed amount of substance expertise is indeed needed to keep the ideation on the right direction (without limiting it too much). But how to find the right balance of optimum mix of expertise and diversity?

Tim Kastelle | 09.06.2011 klo 00:52

Nice post Juha - very consistent with my experiences as well.

Juan Cano-Arribí | 09.06.2011 klo 02:51

Terrific experience, Juha!
Mine is similar. That's the difference between an innovation team and an incremental one!


Sari Kola-Nyström | 09.06.2011 klo 06:53

Diversity is indeed important - but so is the way how the task is defined. I have found out that even "less divergent" teams produce surprising ideas if
a) the time to respond is short enough (no time to filter ideas)
b) there are a few practice rounds about topics that do not directly relate to the matter @hand
Regardless of the above, more divergent teams tend to "cross-pollinate" better i.e. the initial ideas generate even more ideas when shared with the group.

Clay Maxwell | 09.06.2011 klo 10:30


You are quite right. This is fundamental to what we do as innovationists, yet it's astonishing because it seems every new company I walk into is not doing it! The idea of demonstrating the different effect of the two groups to the client is an intriguing idea. Perhaps that would drive home the need to always have a diverse group tackling a given task.

We too will often leverage our own "grey-haired" "Wild Cards" (read: our partners - note: they describe themselves as such, so I will not be in trouble for saying this), who have little knowledge of the industry but bring in good behavior like building on each other's ideas.


Clay (from Creative Realities)

Michael Soerensen | 09.06.2011 klo 12:16

Hi Juha;-) great post!`ve definitely proved the challenges of making cross cultural collaboration work to your customer!...We - here @nosco, have introduced "innovation dating" within our Idea management system, as a mean to encourage not only ideation, but also to create cross cultural "teams" to virtually back up ideas all ready in the front end of innovation. This feature has given very positive and interesting results, when large corporations are pursuing this vital element of successful innovation.

Jukka Ala-Mutka | 11.06.2011 klo 16:47

Hi Juha, nice post. I have similar experiences and I have taken account this very seriously. Even though, this is not enough... A couple months ago, I had 40 persons from same company divided into 2 groups (and 8 teams). In each teams and groups have people from different units and we carefully selected different types to each teams.

Result: The group 2 perform better and our conclusion was that there was two persons that raise the level of acitivity of the whole group (20 persons) and in the first group there was a persons that decrease the level of activity of others. Thus, the difference was significant.



Juha Lipponen | 13.06.2011 klo 08:54

Sari, that was good point to use practice rounds in ideation; A short ideation training from a simple subject (like what else would you do with ping pong balls) before the actual ideation efficiently opens the minds of people. Also I usually ask the participants to produce a few ideas before the actual ideation (they come in their brains running) to the

Clay, I liked the idea of the "wild cards" :)

Michael, your concept of Innovation Dating seems very interesting. Especially in Front End of Innovation, the end utilisation, or "final owner" of new ideas is not necessarily seen directly. Therefore, I can see it can be very useful to have more viewpoints in the beginning to look at the "baby" ideas.

Jukka, I have also seen that an example of maybe 1-2 people can be crucial to the success of an ideation workshop - to the better of worse... Especially at the beginning of a workshop, if people see "Oh you can say THAT CRAZY ideas here...", it can relieve the peer pressure immediately....

Steen Koldsø | 13.06.2011 klo 10:44

Chris you are absolutely right about "Cross-functional teams that bring together diverse perspectives will always outperform the groupthink of "experts."

It's about to have a team that are able to come all the way around the task/problem/product/concept they are so-pose to solve or work on.

Case: I established in 2003 and was leading such a team in Nokia Mobile Phones R&D Center Copenhagen until 2006, responsible of creating all new mobile phone concepts / pre studies and technology input to road mapping.
The team created at that time, the concepts to some of the best product successes in Nokia ever, and by e.g. we did a technology solution to the "unbreakable keyboard" this was later implemented into the majority of all new Nokia mobiles, saving them 65000 Euro a day in 2010!


Steen Koldsø

Ralph Ohr | 13.06.2011 klo 18:05

That's an interesting post.

Though the result doesn't seem to be too surprising to me. Basically, it depends on the particular problem how to line up the team to propoerly approach and solve it. However, when it comes to solutions, people in general, and experts in particular, are biased towards existing regimes. This may hinder innovation if more than improvent of the current portfolio is required. In this case, diverging perspectives are conducive to get "out of the box". Or as it is put nicely in the following post: "...when people become expert, they ask questions they already know the answer to when what they should be doing is asking questions that they don’t know the answer to."

Have a look at the following post. It might be of interest for you as it's quite related to this issue:

Regards, Ralph

Dieter Reuther, Cast Collective | 16.06.2011 klo 14:33

As a firm believer in the power of intersections, where unrelated experiences and talents meet and create great opportunities and stimulate new thinking, I very much support your findings. Experts are often stuck in their very focused and deep experiences and specific knowledge. A mixed group of people with a broad background however, can inspire each other and of come up with fresh and unexpected ideas and concepts.

Juha Lipponen | 21.06.2011 klo 22:04

Good points, Dieter! Expertise is often seen as a synonym for Experience; J. Paul Getty said "In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy"...

David Smith | 21.06.2011 klo 23:15

Thanks for the thought provoking blog Juha. I would very much agree that particularly at ideation phase diversity is critical. Diversity of expertise is also very important in judging ideas and which ones to take forward and invest more time and resources in developing. I would tend to support ideas that have most volatility in terms of expert assessment (rather than norming to mean)

Dirk De Boe | 26.07.2011 klo 15:41

Indeed, a variety in team members helps, especially when you have a couple of wild geese in your brainstorming session. I have good experience with a team of half own people (from different disciplines) & half external people (who have nothing to do with your business). What also works is to put the newly hired people around the table & brainstorm on what could be improved to your product as they are still unspoiled with your product experience & might still see opportunities hidden in plain sight

Petter Kolseth | 01.01.2012 klo 00:11

Fascinating experience. And rare. The yeah sayers almost exclusively reach the management team. Alternate opinions are said to be welcome but most often result in the one who speaks up being made redundant.
(sorry for late reply…)

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