Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation - Deepstash
Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation

Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation

Linda A. Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove, Kent Lineback


The Art of Leadership

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“If your goal is innovation, then your role must instead be to create an environment—a setting, a context, an organization—where people are willing and able to do the hard work of innovation themselves: to collaborate, learn through trial and error, and make integrated decisions.”



1.53K reads

The collective genius

Innovation is often a group effort, not an isolated individual who works alone.

Better ideas arise when people with different views can express their ideas and receive feedback. Innovations are discovered after countless experimentation and trial and error. This can take time.


1.12K reads

Leading innovation

Good leaders encourage discovery and innovation.

  • Leaders ensure their organisations are collaborative and make integrative decisions.
  • They help with conflict resolution without providing a solution to a group.
  • They encourage multiple opinions.


1.05K reads

Collective genius needs leadership

Innovation needs paradoxical qualities: Freedom and restraint. Unleashing and harnessing resources like talent and ideas. Harmony in the team and conflict.

  • A good leader encourages people to express their viewpoints. They create an open environment where people feel comfortable contributing their ideas, knowing others will listen to them but also challenge their ideas.
  • Good leaders encourage experimentation, iteration, learning and starting over.
  • However, learning should be balanced with performance; creative freedom with boundaries (schedules, budgets, rules and procedures).


872 reads

The traditional model of leadership

The traditional leadership model tends to squash creativity. The boss creates the ideas, then tells everyone what they should do. This model doesn't work when the goal is to create something new because even the leaders don't know the outcome.

To cultivate innovative conditions, leaders should create an environment where people are encouraged to be creative:

  • Increase transparency to build employee trust.
  • Make management more accessible and accountable so that employees can flag problems.
  • Empower employees so that they will take initiative.


779 reads

Building a creative community

People want to feel like they're part of a community and work on something bigger than themselves. A brand can be used to unite and motivate employees around a common purpose.

Leaders create the space for innovation. They create an environment in which people want to work and can get the work done. For example, De Meo, head of sales and marketing at Volkswagen, established a lab where employees from different departments could work together. He provided little direction and almost complete autonomy. It improved collaboration skills and caused employees to create innovative solutions.


670 reads

The values of innovative groups

Values define what is important to a group. They determine the group's priorities. Innovative groups share four core values: 

  • Bold ambition: A group with a bold purpose will take on big challenges. Bold groups want to improve the world, and they feel they can improve it.
  • Collaboration: Innovative companies intentionally build collaboration into their strategies. Innovation is the result of diverse people working together on a problem.
  • Learning: When you try something new, mistakes are inevitable. 
  •  The group shares a sense of responsibility and ownership for the outcomes.


653 reads

Creative friction

Good ideas are shaped by discussion, debate and conflict. For people to be creative and innovative, they need to be good at disagreeing while staying respectful and treating each other as equals.

Creative abrasion is a skill that can be learned:

  • A diverse group of people need to create a lot of ideas and must be willing for their ideas to be criticised.
  • Productive conflict requires trust between team members. Conflict that becomes personal shouldn't be tolerated.
  • Leaders should not impose solutions on the team but ask questions that help the team create their own solutions. 


608 reads

Creative agility

Creative agility is the groups' ability to continually find out what works. Learning and development are balanced with tangible results.

Constant experimentation stimulates innovation. When the path forward is unclear, the agile team uses a cycle of trial and error, and reflection and analysis until a solution emerges. Each cycle uses the lessons learned from the previous cycle.

A certain amount of failure is inevitable, so leaders should learn to accept that mistakes are an important part of learning and should be tolerated.


575 reads

Creative resolution

Ideas are created through discussion and conflict, and solutions are tested via trial and error. The next part is creative resolution. Here it is important to balance perseverance with endurance.

At this point, the leader establishes the boundaries and conditions for the work. The leader is the social architect who makes innovation possible, but for the most part, innovation comes from team members.


559 reads

Creating an innovation ecosystem

Some challenges are so big and complex that they require multiple disciplines to deal with them, often beyond a single organisation.

Unlike innovative teams within a single company, teams across organisations often feel competitive or hostile to one another. Leaders may focus too much on the rules and boundaries, but fostering participants' willingness to engage is more important to building community.

To build a community essential for innovation, first get everyone to agree on the goal of the effort, then set the conditions for working together.


539 reads



"The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time." - Lincoln


The author argues that the traditional autocratic leadership model does not work for innovative businesses. Instead, innovation requires a different type of leader that can foster a stimulating and supportive working environment.

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