39 Insights into the makeup of innovative teams: From the 2009 IdeaConnection interviews

Picture of Rob Williams - Street PerformerTo give businesses access to the world’s most creative and innovative people, who work collaboratively to solve problems and develop innovations.  That is the mission statement of IdeaConnection, a company headquartered in Victoria, BC.  In the spirit of access, IdeaConnection interviews leading innovation authors, and makes the interview notes available on their website.  The majority of the interviews are conducted by Vern Burkhardt.  He is an excellent interviewer, in almost all interviews drawing out the interviewees core beliefs, ideas and experiences.  As such, each interview provides a residue of accumulated experience, i.e., knowledge resource (thinking of my post on knowledge & communities of practice).  Wow, what a resource this is!

So far, I’ve read all the 2009 interviews (around 50).  With such a strong connection between collaboration and innovation, I’ve pulled together, from the interviews, what I think are some of the more interesting ways people build successful, innovative teams.  On most of the points below, I’ve added the actual author’s name (in brackets), in case you want to read the related interview on the IdeaConnection website.


1.  Diversity; e.g., in experience, expertise, age; correlates with adaptation/survival
2.  Multiple Personas; e.g. experimenter, architect, storyteller (Kelley)
3.  Lead users/customers; outsiders involved in co-design (Seybold)


4.  Structure + creativity = innovation
5.  Teams no bigger than a jazz band; able to improvise, collaborate, and innovate (Estrin)
6.  Passionate physical environment; inviting, vibrating with energy (Dundon)
7.  Social presence; finding right level of technology to facilitate warmth, sensitivity, personal connection (Nemiro)
8.  Team Center; aka war room, planning center; think Walt Disney (Deacon)
9.  Color-coded projects; another way to leverage power of visual thinking (Deacon)
10.  Kitchen for the Mind; putting all tech and creativity tools in one room to help feed your mind (Deacon)
11.  Magnetworks; attracting others to your innovation network (Dundon)
12.  Think inside the box; setting boundaries on creative work (Dahlen)
13.  Motivation description; replacing job description (Ridderstrale)
14.  Culture trumps policy & systems; a group of wonderfully cared for, confident individuals will generate great ideas (Sweeney)


15.  Abundance mentality; it drives innovation (Kelley)
16.  Gut feelings; welcome them as they are a product of the brain too! (Dahlen)
17.  Flow experience; imaginative or divergent thinking (Fraley)
18.  Follow the follower; everyone is a follower, or is it a leader? (Sweeney)
19.  Puzzles; all the pieces are there, you just need to find them (Dahlen)
20.  Laughter; is moving-forward behaviour (Sweeney et al)
21.  Gifts; material/ideas from others is a gift; think street performer (Sweeney, Lundin et al)
22.  Mutations; life evolves, mutations improve likelihood of success (Dahlen)
23.  Paradox; value both the beginners mind & experts mind, divergent & convergent, (Leonard et al)


24.  Customer safari; to understand what innovations you need to make (Mahajan)
25.  Scenarios; thinking about different possible futures, as uncertainty is a given (Brabandere)
26.  Divergent and convergent thinking (many)
27.  2-stroke engine; power of 2 person partnership, 2 brains, judgement & imagination (Brabandere),
28.  Pictures; intersection between linear and spatial thinking (Roam)
29.  Linear techniques; e.g., mind mapping, brainstorming (Nemiro)
30.  Intuitive techniques; e.g., drawing, meditation (Nemiro)
31.  God’s advocate; God & Devil advocates; appointed instead of self-appointed (Kelley)
32.  Aliens; added to disrupt unhealthy patterns in your discussion group (Leonard)
33.  Force fit; imposing attributes of unrelated situation/object, unblocking a pattern (Fraley)
34.  Wormhole connection; in virtual context, when co-location of team members not possible (Kelley)
35.  e-brainstorming; offers benefits of individual & collective thinking (Leonard)
36.  Prototyping; of both physical and processes (Leonard)
37.  Fail fast-forward; fail early and often, tackle riskiest areas first (Estrin)
38.  Sensanation; thinking about a product/service in terms of the 5 senses (Deacon)
39.  Non finito; a metaphor for continuous (product) innovation (Brabandere)

Now what?

Perhaps some of these insights you’ll incorporate in your organization?  Which ones appeal to you most?

And me, I’m thinking another related post e.g., innovative leadership.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to my blog. Always appreciated, Ben.

Photo credit: drummp2


  1. I love this summary and the groupings are extremely helpful clarification. My favourites are ‘teams no bigger than a jazz band’, ‘passionate physical space’, and ‘culture trumps policy and systems’. If you follow just those three, ideas that work will flow. Great article! Thank you.

  2. Thanks Amanda. And I agree with you, one could go far with just those three as a guide! Cheers, Ben.

  3. excellent summary – thanks. and more evidence that it doesn’t just happen 🙂


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