Group innovation – NOT

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Have you ever been in a meeting or training session where the facilitator broke the meeting up into smaller groups and then asked those smaller groups to “discuss” a topic or “come up with a solution” to a problem?  At the end did you ever feel that your voice was never heard?

Congratulations, you’re an introvert.  Introverts, by their very nature, don’t work well in groups thrown together at the last moment.  They don’t speak up in groups without having had time to digest and think about things.  They prefer to work alone, or in groups that they are already familiar with.  They don’t speak up in groups unless something is seriously going off the rails.

I know this because I’m an introvert.  Yup, why else do you think I am writing this to you instead of talking to you in person.  Too scared to do so.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, created an organization and website called “Quiet Revolution“.  They have their own manifesto:

  1. There is a word for “people who are in their heads too much”-thinkers.
  2. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.
  3. The next generation of quiet kids can and must be raised to know their own strengths.
  4. Sometimes it helps to be a pretend-extrovert. There is always time to be quiet later.
  5. But in the long run, staying true to your temperament is the key to finding work you love and work that matters.
  6. One genuine relationship is worth a fistful of business cards.
  7. It’s okay to cross the street to avoid making small talk.
  8. “Quiet leadership” is not an oxymoron.
  9. Love is essential; gregariousness is optional.
  10. “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” -Mahatma Gandhi

The main thing to understand is that the traditional “let’s get together in smaller groups and solve the problem” doesn’t work for a lot of people.  Depending upon your definition of introverts, they can be anywhere from 30% to 60% of the workforce.  If you start railroading them, forcing them to make decisions without gathering all of the data, you could be losing 30% to 60% of the ideas in your organization.  And while there are common stereotypes about introverts, that they are predominantly “thinkers” not “doers”, it is this precise type of mentality, thinkers, that has enabled the human race to come up with personal computers, the Internet, and Starbucks.

What you need to do is come up with ways of interacting that allow everyone to participate, not just the loudest.  To that end Quiet Revolution came up with a recent article on “4 Ways to Collaborate More Effectively Than a Traditional Meeting“.  In short, things like:

  • Real time document sharing
  • Messaging/Forum apps like Skype, Slack and Chatter
  • Innovative collaboration tools like Candor
  • Brainwriting, not brainstorming

Each approach offers challenges, but each approach also offers benefits.  “Let’s break up into smaller groups” was old when I was going to school back in the ’70’s.  And while it may come back into style like the clothing, don’t you think it’s time that we learned from decades of not getting the results we want that perhaps we need to change our approach?

“Hey babe, what’s your sign?” stopped working a long time ago, along with “Let’s break up into groups”.  If we want to innovate, if we want ideas, then let’s get rid of the box that we are placing around ourselves.

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