Conversation at the root of innovation

Rooted by AnyaLogic, on Flickr

Rooted by AnyaLogic, on Flickr

Over the past few weeks I’ve been stretching my thinking about how conversations link to creativity and innovation – and how we can get better at having conversations that support creative thinking and innovation.

For someone with a magpie mind like mine, one of the delights of such an exploration is coming across elegant expressions of key ideas by others. One of these “finds” is a speech Charles Leadbeater did for the Mayor of Shanghai’s International Business Leaders Advisory Council. Leadbeater’s focus was on what makes a city a creative and innovative place to live and work in. He structured his speech around six Cs: Combination, Conversation, Challenge, Co-evolution, Commitment, Connection

While his focus is cities, I believe each of these apply also to other “collectives”, including organizations.

Since my big focus at the moment is conversation and how to enhance the quality of conversation, I was delighted to read what he had to say about the link between conversation and innovation.

Conversation is his second C – coming after the C for the Combination of ideas, viewpoints, and technologies to create something new. Here’s what Leadbeater has to say about Conversation as a factor for innovation:

The second C is for conversation. Those new combinations I was talking about usually come about through conversation. Indeed I would go so far as to say that conversation is at the root of all innovation.

He then lists several of the biggest advances in modern science that came about through conversations that enabled the combining of ideas – including the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA as a result of “endless conversations” between Watson and Crick, conversations that combined ideas from biology and chemistry.

In my personal experience, conversations certainly is a key force in shaping innovative ideas. And that is echoed by participants in workshops on the positive potential of conversations in their environments.

The trick, of course, is to have the right kind of conversations – conversations that allows for the unexpected combinations of ideas. As Leadbeater puts it:

A good conversation is not a lecture nor a negotiation: good conversations allow ideas to flow, to be challenged, developed upon, tested. In a good conversation you often end up saying things you did not expect and you leave with a shared understanding of an issue.

How many good conversations are you having every week?

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