“Ideas are easy, execution is everything.” Doesn’t that sentence perfectly sum up one of the biggest challenges professionals face – the gap between knowing what to do and actually doing it?
So how do we bridge that gap? I think it has everything to do with successfully communicating and collaborating with people different from us; diversity of thought delivers more ideas – and more different ideas – than you will get from a group of people who are more or less the same.
In 2016 I left my position as a curator at the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm, Sweden. Since then I have been travelling around the world helping companies and organisations to think and behave in new ways.
We need ideas – and we need to execute them
I realised years ago that one thing shared by all Nobel Laureates is that they have all executed their ideas, from new discoveries to writing a book. I think we can learn a lot by looking at their creative processes, analysing their successes and failures, and explaining the dos and don’ts.
Much as we do with elite athletes, we often put Nobel Laureates on a pedestal, but it’s not always about being super smart or having the best ideas. Personally, I think it’s more about being able to communicate and collaborate with people who are different from yourself. This is why, in many cases, the Nobel Prize is in fact awarded jointly.
If you want to increase your chances of success, collaboration is the key. And while this might sound easy, it’s not. Most collaborations fail. The problem can be boiled down to a couple of critical points. One of them is about trust. Another is about diversity.
Trust is the most important business and brand asset you manage, especially in relationships with customers, clients, employees, and stakeholders. Our economy works because people trust each other and the businesses they support.
Trust requires a relationship between two people, and all relationships are complex. Despite the whole “opposites attract” thing, most people tend to like people who are similar to themselves. We tend to trust those whom we like. As the saying goes, “great minds think alike”.
I believe, however, that great minds thinking alike is often a problem. What we need today is as many good yet different ideas as possible, so we can pick the absolute best one. And that means coming up with different perspectives and different ways of approaching and meeting particular needs. Diversity, then, is about ROI (Return on Investment), not just about being ‘nice’.
It takes a team to win
If you were to look at universities that have contributed the most Nobel Laureates, you’d see a pattern emerge. By and large, these universities designed courses, spaces, labs, and other interventions that encouraged interaction between diverse groups of people.
Building collaborative spaces and cross-functional teams probably feels doable, at face value, for most organisations. But ensuring that people like or trust one another? That doesn’t feel as easy, does it? Make no mistake, it can be done. It comes down to understanding and encouraging behaviours that build trust – things such as active listening, transparency, authenticity, empathy, helpfulness, recognition – and discouraging ones that break trust.
This recipe works not just for universities. This is relevant for companies and organisations, for everyone in fact. I saw the same pattern when I studied Google’s Project Aristotle. In looking at what makes teams successful, Google also concluded that trust was the single most important factor.
Without trust, collaboration simply doesn’t happen. And without collaboration, you can’t achieve innovation. In other words, you can have the smartest, most incredible ideas in the history of mankind, but if you can’t communicate them and collaborate well with others, you won’t be successful. The same is true for companies undergoing massive transformation efforts right now. If people can’t collaborate well across functions and teams, failure is inevitable.
Let me be clear. Without risk there is no reward. There is no innovation without failure. “Fail fast” is often associated with the lean startup methodology. I prefer another approach: learn from your mistakes. Sometimes you are a fast learner, sometimes you are slow. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.
From Projects to Experiments
Words mean a lot to me. Many people talk about change. I prefer to talk about improvement. Everything can be improved. Recently, for example, I updated my website. Instead of “Projects” it now says “Experiments”. I believe in learning by doing. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.
People call me Change Maker, Collaboration Evangelist, Thinker-Doer, Thought Leader. Once one of the Big Five Tech Companies even called me a Gold Finder. Personally, I don’t care about titles. I like to inspire diverse teams to face reality, problem-solve, and contribute innovative solutions, no matter what. I believe in bridges. If I can add at least one ‘brick ‘ to a bridge that helps span a gap somewhere, then I’m satisfied. It’s back to that idea of bridging – or at least narrowing – the gap between knowing what to do and actually doing it.
P.S. I also believe that it not only takes a team to win, but also that winning teams can change the world.
Tobias is a Stellar Faculty member. He is a creativity expert and the CEO and founder of the company Combiner. In addition, he is a former curator at the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm.
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