Getting New Ideas

I am a firm believer in sharing knowledge as opposed to hoarding it (especially within the confines of a company). Knowledge is power, so many of us are reluctant to give it up. Leadership should concentrate on building a collective intelligence, as opposed the combination of individual intelligences; this is obvious, though the strategies to improve a collective intelligence are not.

To conclude my series of blogs on actualizing ideas (and its relevance as part of a company strategy), I wanted to share some insights from Andrii Sedniev in his book The Business Idea Factory. He is a smart guy who has devoted himself to the art of generating ideas. Early on he makes a point that hits home with what I have been saying:

Companies succeed because of great ideas and go bankrupt because of lack of them.

New Ideas
New Ideas

He refers to Walt Disney’s three stages of thinking: dreamer, realist, and critic. You start with creative energy as you seed ideas; have an open mind (do not squash ideas). During the next stage, you figure out how to move an idea forward – realize it. In the final stage, you reflect on the idea: determine pitfalls and weigh competing ideas. (Now you do the squashing.)

Sedniev says great ideas are an extension of our life experiences. This is true. What you have and are experiencing consumes your thoughts, so new ideas are naturally sprung from these experiences. To seek inspiration, you immerse yourself in experiences related to the problem you are trying to solve – technology, applications, processes, etc. An example in my work is creating a user interface. I have to spend time tinkering with actual processes to generate new, user-friendly interfaces.

No matter what anyone tells you, great ideas are “either modifications or combinations of the old ones”. The takeaway here is twofold: be willing to adapt and evolve preexisting ideas and the novelty of an idea does not always equate its value. Few ideas do not have precedence. Just think how few thinkers foresee the future ten years in advance.

I like the “100, 20, 5, 1” rule for a group brainstorming new ideas. It says you start with 100 ideas then break the list down to 20 ideas, then 5 ideas, and finally the one idea you actualize. Admittedly starting with 100 ideas seems like a lot, so you may scale down the ratios. (I combine this rule with Disney’s three stages of thinking in the graphic above.)

He also talks about idea bombarding (rapidly coming up with a lot of ideas), an idea snowball effect (one idea leads to others), and the importance of engaging others (casual conversations). I love bouncing ideas in random encounters because you get candid, unadulterated feedback.

Finally, I hope this quote from the book is inspiring:

The world’s best thinkers are able to generate successful ideas not because they are geniuses, but because they think about ideas daily and have trained their creative muscles more than other people.


It’s Not All About How Smart You Are…

Individual intelligence is commonly associated with cognitive intelligence, though emotional intelligence is also getting a lot of attention nowadays (especially among leadership gurus). Going forward, a collective intelligence – the combined intelligence of systems and a network/team – becomes more important than individual intelligence. It makes more sense to compare collective intelligences, because teams and their intelligent systems are the actors of future competition.


Here are the definitions of some of various intelligences I have come across:

Cognitive Intelligence (IQ, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, etc.) – “the set of all mental abilities and processes related to knowledge: attention, memory and working memory, judgment and evaluation, reasoning and computation, problem solving and decision-making, comprehension and production of language, etc.”[i] People with a high cognitive intelligence often brandish the results of related tests on college and employment applications, some even put it on their LinkedIn profile; it is a status symbol in our society. Stereotype of someone with a high IQ: a brainy genius who you ask to solve a problem.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – “the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”[ii] In Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves break emotional intelligence into four areas – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management – and provide strategies to improve your EQ. A distinction they make frequently is you can improve your EQ, but cannot improve your IQ. Many of the leadership and personal branding experts assert that a high EQ is more valuable than a high IQ in most professions. Stereotype of someone with a high EQ: a social magnet who you ask to coordinate gatherings.

Creative Intelligence (CQ, curiosity quotient) – capable of ‘generating original ideas’, open to new experiences, and inquisitive. People with a high CQ ‘stir the pot’ by challenging the status quo. Their ideas are not necessarily rooted in complex thinking (requiring a high IQ), but rather tweaking or thinking out of the box. In a HBR article Curiosity Is as Important as Intelligence, the author concludes: “CQ is the ultimate tool to produce simple solutions for complex problems”. Stereotype of someone with a high CQ: an edgy designer who you ask to create concepts.

Contextual Intelligence – “the ability to understand boundaries of knowledge and adapt to other environments.”[iii] Understanding the nuances of different cultures and their social norms is critical as we become increasingly interconnected. Understanding variations in seemingly similar applications is important as the competition between new technologies stiffens. Stereotype of someone with a high contextual intelligence: a street-smart diplomat who you ask to understand a culture.

Artificial Intelligence (Turing Test) – the intelligence of machines or software. Artificial intelligence is becoming a reality, some current applications include: feeding content in social media, asking IBM Watson questions through Verse (an email collaboration platform), and nudging by personal assistants on cell phones (Siri, Cortana, Google Now, etc.). It is a commonly accepted notion that AI becomes pervasive in our everyday lives. Though many outspoken leaders, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, and Elon Musk, have recently voiced concerns about the dangers of future intelligent systems.

Collective Intelligence (a variation of IQ to accommodate teams) – this is the combined intelligence of a team and/or intelligent systems. With advances in technology and communication practices, leaders need to think in terms of a collective intelligence as they build teams and introduce technologies. A collective intelligence can be predicted. It is strongly correlated with “the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and proportions of females in the group” – not strongly correlated with the individual intelligence of its members.[iv] It is also worth noting that online communication (driven by technology) has similar correlations to collective intelligence as face-to-face communication.[v]

There are various forms of intelligence: cognitive, emotional, creative, and contextual. Fortunately, it is not just about how smart you are – personality, ingenuity, and street smarts are as valuable. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a reality. Leaders should optimize the collective intelligence of their teams.






Improve Your ‘Collective Intelligence’

I recently talked about humans using machines to improve a ‘collective intelligence’, but another way to improve ‘collective intelligence’ is through teams or networks; so the two terms together:


Collective Intelligence
Collective Intelligence

With social media, you engage with a network and build concepts collectively. Someone has an initial inspiration such as a blog or article post and then a network responds through commentary. That initial concept usually evolves into something deeper and richer. This exchange is especially effective in LinkedIn, perhaps because professionals’ reputations are at stake. In A World Gone Social, the authors summarize it:

By sharing knowledge and best practices, the community grows, collectively.[i]

Professionals are able to claim a concept (something they are researching or thinking about) and attract interested parties through a network. The best ways to distinguish the concept is to create a hashtag, something all of the social media platforms use for conversations. Of course, a traditional search in social media or Google on the concept also works. Once there is a following, you have effectively created a feedback loop – an effective way to collectively build a concept.

Your network also feeds you relevant content, stuff they have created or curated. Intelligent systems also feed you content through algorithms. Because of the massive amount of content produced on a single day, you cannot read everything. Much of your ‘daily knowledge gain’ is based on what content is fed to you. Many of us get our daily news from Twitter and Facebook.

But probably the biggest gains in ‘collective intelligence’ comes from groups working together and using technologies to solve problems. A well-cited article Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups has two strong conclusions. First and foremost, it is possible to measure and sometimes predict a group’s collective intelligence. Second, it is strongly correlated with “the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and proportions of females in the group” – not strongly correlated with the individual intelligence of its members. To the ballyhoo of those trying to improve team dynamics, it turns out motivation and cohesion are also not good predictors. [ii]

The takeaway is leaders should improve the ‘collective intelligence’ of their teams. Introducing new technologies and applications could be an effective way to improve this ‘collective intelligence’. Moreover, they should create a structured environment where all team members have equal time to share their ideas. Perhaps flatter companies where team members have an equal voice and status is the optimal structure; this is something the authors harp on in A World Gone Social. Social networks and technology make it possible to do all of this virtually. In the future, ‘collective intelligence’ will be more commonly referenced than ‘individual intelligence’.

Intelligence in all its forms relates to personal branding. Think about it. In an evaluation of a person’s reputation (personal branding is synonymous with reputation management in many ways), two things always come up: that person’s smartness and how well he or she works with others. Your maximum level of expertise with a skill set is largely determined by your individual intelligence (and to some extent your collective intelligence). Your identity and connectedness defines what networks you can tap into to maximize your collective intelligence.

[i] Ted Coine and Mark Babbitt (2014). A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt To Survive. New York: AMACOM.