THERE IS A PLACE in this world where your chances of creating a major innovative breakthrough are much greater than they are anywhere else. It is not a particular country, nor is it a specific city. It is a place we can create in our own organizations, teams, and minds. I call it the Intersection, and your key priority-if you wish to stay ahead of your competition and break new ground-is to seek it out and bring the ideas you find there to life.
The Intersection is a place where two or more different disciplines, industries or cultures converge and combine to form extraordinary new ideas. They are usually far more powerful than any incremental extension of what you are already working on. These new ideas are not just about adding another feature or an adjacent market – I assume that you are already furiously working on these sorts of developments. This kind of thinking leads you to somewhere different. Stepping into the Intersection will enable you to leapfrog a competitor completely, open up an entirely new market, fundamentally reimagine your brand, or totally transform your business model.
Leading innovators have talked about these intersections for a long time: Steve Jobs defined creativity as ‘connecting things’ and Albert Einstein saw ‘combinatorial play’ as essential to creative thinking. The subjects at play are often completely disparate from one another. For instance, what happens when a car company uses African locusts as a source of inspiration for improving car safety? Or when we look to cure cancer by using ideas from the video game world? Or also when we combine electrical engineering with farming? The end result is that you can develop amazing innovations and sometimes revolutionize entire segments of our economy. (You will get to read about these innovations, along with many others, later in this issue).
These innovation stories convey a fundamental truth-that innovation today is less about expertise or sticking within your industry or culture, and more about connecting what you already know or own with a concept from another field or culture. It is about crossing one industry with another. The faster and more easily you can find and leverage these intersections, the better off you are. They are happening all around us, every day. Welcome to the new world where everything is connected and the future is more unpredictable than ever.
Whatever field or industry you are in, whatever expertise you have mastered, whatever norm or tradition you have come to accept-all of them are changing. We see this change everywhere, with the stakes higher than ever in business: Shortened product lifecycles, lower barriers to entry, and competition from unexpected places. Zara’s supply chain is so fast that it can design and produce new fashions and have them in stores in 15 days, while most major retailers still take 6 to 12 months. How then were the established giants not able to innovate in this way? Netflix released an entire season of a show in one day, all over the world, rather than airing episodes over the course of months. How were they the first to do this? What Netflix proved to television networks was that competition could come from anywhere. That, by the way, is very likely to be true for your own role and your own organization.
What should your approach to innovation be? You must go where these very changes are occurring-at the intersections of industries, cultures, fields and disciplines. Teams that work at the intersection can harness the diversity of individuals in the group and have many more tools in their creative toolbox. You can build this toolbox in any number of different ways: Break down silos within your organization, create more diversity in your team and workforce, encourage interesting and new idea combinations, and bring in some seemingly unrelated expertise for a fresh look at an opportunity or challenge.
A client, one of the largest entertainment companies in the world, completely changed the way they thought about risk, thus enabling individuals to make decisions, take action and experiment. It once took this organization 40 weeks to go from conceiving an idea to testing it. Today, this timeframe is around four to five weeks. The key in accomplishing this transformation? By encouraging collaboration across traditional lines and the development of diverse and temporary teams, these leaders were able to develop more powerful ideas and execute them much faster.
What’s interesting about this transformation is that it was not the result of overarching structural or process changes (which can take forever to execute) but rather changes in individual leadership style. In other words, the leaders took it upon themselves to discover and explore new, unique intersections. You must do the same.
In this issue, we give you six strategies to do just that. These provide an overarching framework for living, working and innovating at the Intersection. Each strategy provides simple but effective methods for incorporating this thinking into your everyday life-as individuals and within your teams-and offers supporting stories that illustrate intersectional innovation at its best.
These strategies will also help you develop confidence in being uncomfortable. As part of its company culture, Google stresses that 'psychological safety' is the most essential component for the success of any initiative: an environment that makes sure employees feel secure in taking risks and sharing ideas. In fact, the tech giant found that individuals on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave Google, more likely to harness the power of diverse ideas from their teammates, bring in more revenue, and are rated as effective twice as often by executives.
As you will see, innovation starts with a state of mind. Get ready to step into the Intersection, where anything is possible. The time is now.