Other people’s ideas

Entrepreneurs love OPM: Other People’s Money. The acronym is pronounced “opium”, of course, an apt metaphor for the addictive nature of entrepreneurship (and perhaps money). Personally, I prefer OPI: Other People’s Ideas. I might as well confess it: I am an idea junkie and a people junkie. I love to discover new industries and new ways of looking at things in business. As importantly, I love to get to know new people, each with their own artistry in looking at the business world. At the canonic age of 56, I wake up every mornings in awe, knowing that new wonders await me in some part of the world.

A funny thing happens when I acknowledge my idea and people addiction publicly. Folks immediately feel the need to reassure me that I am not so bad at generating ideas myself, as if liking other people’s ideas was an admission of my inability to generate my own. The assumption is that my mental shelf must be pretty empty if I feel the need to invoke other people’s ideas. My tendency to latch on to selected people is often interpreted as a character flaw, an implicit recognition that I need to follow someone because I do not have what it takes to lead.

The fact that I view my craft as designing and operating the co-creative network that links great brains together is puzzling to many of my colleagues, as if I had chosen to be the equipment manager when I could be on the basketball court. I think of my role more like the team coach; I try to be the instrument of other people’s talent. I may not get the roar of the crowd for spectacular slam dunks, but I help my team win nonetheless. Most importantly, this gives me courtside access to the greatest show on earth: human creativity in action.

My ambition is far greater than having fun in my job, though. I am consumed by the notion that most organizations have their innovation process all wrong, and I shall not rest until I fix that. Simply put, we overvalue ideas and undervalue the collective process of development of these ideas and the role of humans in it. We create a revisionist view of innovation by reducing messy collective developments to a few objects we call “ideas” or “insights,” and usually overattribute maternity or paternity for them to one or two people who become lionized for their visionary aptitude. What ought to be an enterprise-wide process of co-creation gets reduced to the framing of a few ideas sponsored by a few individuals, put through a stage-gate process that aims to kill early and often, when it ought to be focused on mobilizing the creative energy of the entire enterprise and letting people make their own go/no-go decisions at much lower levels. This, of course, requires both a process and an infrastructure that organizations typically do not have today, but which they will have to develop over the next few years.

There is a lot of thought leadership required to connect thought leaders together. My wish for 2011 is to find enough humble thought leaders willing to invest their time in developing this human connectivity network, rather than attempting to become the killer node in that network.

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