How to manage for collective creativity | Linda Hill | TEDxCambridge

How to manage for collective creativity | Linda Hill | TEDxCambridge


Translator: Michele Gianella
Reviewer: TED Translators admin I have a confession to make. I’m a business professor whose ambition has been
to help people learn to lead. But recently, I’ve discovered that what many of us
think of as great leadership does not work, when it comes
to leading innovation. I’m an ethnographer. I use the methods of anthropology to understand the questions
which I’m interested. So along with three co-conspirators, I spent nearly a decade observing
up close and personal, exceptional leaders of innovation. We studied 16 men and women, located in seven countries
across the globe working in 12 different industries. In total, we spent hundreds of hours
on the ground, on-site, watching these leaders in action. We ended up with pages
and pages of field notes that we analyzed, and looked
for patterns in what our leaders did. The bottom line? If we want to build organizations
that can innovate time and again, we must unlearn our conventional
notions of leadership. Leading innovation is not
about creating a vision, and inspiring others to execute it. But what do we mean by innovation? An innovation is anything
that is both new and useful. It can be a product or service. It can be a process
or a way of organizing. It can be incremental,
or it can be breakthrough. We have a pretty inclusive definition. How many of you recognize this man? Put your hands up. Keep your hands up,
if you know who this is. How about these familiar faces? (Laughter) From your show of hands, it looks like many of you
have seen the Pixar movie. But very few of you recognized Ed Catmull, the founder and CEO of Pixar – one of the companies
I had the privilege of studying. My first visit to Pixar was in 2005, when they were working on ‘Ratatouille’, that provocative movie
about a rat becoming a master chef. Computer generated movies
are really mainstream today, but it took Ed and his colleagues
nearly 20 years to create the first full length CG movie. In the 20 years hence,
they’ve produced 14 movies. I was recently at Pixar,
and I’m here to tell you that number 15 is sure to be a winner. When many of us think
about innovation though, we think about an Einstein
having an ‘Aha!’ moment. But we all know that’s a myth. Innovation is not about solo genius, it’s about collective genius. Let’s think for a minute about
what it takes to make a Pixar movie: no solo genius, no flash of inspiration
produces one of those movies. On the contrary, it takes about
250 people four to five years, to make one of those movies. To help us understand the process, an individual in the studio
drew a version of this picture. He did so reluctantly,
because it suggested that their process
was a neat series of steps done by discrete groups. Even with all those arrows, he thought it failed to tell you
just how iterative, interrelated and, frankly, messy their process was. Throughout the making of a movie
at Pixar, the story evolves. So think about it. Some shots go through quickly. They don’t all go through in order. It depends on how vexing
the challenges are, that they come up with, when
they’re working on a particular scene. So if you think about that scene in ‘Up’ where the boy hands the piece
of chocolate to the bird, that 10 seconds took one animator
almost six months to perfect. The other thing about a Pixar movie is that no part of the movie
is considered finished until the entire movie wraps. Partway through one production,
an animator drew a character with an arched eyebrow
that suggested a mischievous side. When the director saw that drawing,
he thought it was great. It was beautiful, but he said, “You’ve got to lose it,
it doesn’t fit the character.” Two weeks later,
the director came back and said, “Let’s put in those few seconds of film.” Because that animator
was allowed to share what we refer to as his slice of genius, he was able to help that director
re-conceive the character in a subtle but important way
that improved the story. What we know is at the heart
of innovation is a paradox. You have to unleash the talents
and passions of many people and you have to harness them
into a work that is actually useful. Innovation is a journey. It’s a type of collaborative
problem solving, usually among people
who have different expertise and different points of view. Innovations rarely get created full blown. As many of you know, they are usually
the result of trial and error. Lots of false starts,
missteps, and mistakes. Innovative work can be very exhilarating, but it also can be really downright scary. So when we look at why it is
that Pixar is able to do what it does, we have to ask ourselves,
what’s going on here? For sure, history
and certainly Hollywood is full of star-studded teams
that have failed. Most of those failures are attributed to too many stars or too many
cooks, if you will, in the kitchen. Why is it that Pixar,
with all of its cooks, is able to be so successful
time and time again? When we studied
an Islamic Bank in Dubai, or a luxury brand in Korea,
or a social enterprise in Africa, we found that innovative organizations are communities
that have three capabilities – creative abrasion, creative agility,
and creative resolution. Creative abrasion is about being able to create a marketplace of ideas
through debate and discourse. In innovative organizations,
they amplify differences, they don’t minimize them. Creative abrasion
is not about brainstorming where people suspend their judgment. No, they know how to have very heated
but constructive arguments to create a portfolio of alternatives. Individuals in innovative organizations learn how to inquire,
they learn how to actively listen but – guess what? They also learn how to advocate
for their point of view. They understand
that innovation rarely happens unless you have both
diversity and conflict. Creative agility is about being able to test and refine that portfolio of ideas through quick pursuit,
reflection, and adjustment. It’s about discovery driven learning where you act as opposed to plan
your way to the future. It’s about design thinking where you have
that interesting combination of the scientific method
and the artistic process. It’s about running
a series of experiments, and not a series of pilots. Experiments are usually about learning. When you get a negative outcome, you are still learning something
that you need to know. Pilots are often about being right. When they don’t work,
someone or something is to blame. The final capability
is creative resolution. This is about doing
decision making in a way that you can combine
even opposable ideas to reconfigure them in new combinations to produce a solution
that is new and useful. When you look at innovative organizations,
they never go along to get along. They don’t compromise. They don’t let one group
or one individual dominate, even if it’s the boss,
even if it’s the expert. Instead, they have developed a rather patient and more inclusive
decision-making process that allows for both end solutions
to arise and not simply either/or solutions. These three capabilities are why we see that Pixar is able to do what it does. Let me give you another example. And that example
is the infrastructure group of Google. The infrastructure group
of Google is the group that has to keep the website
up and running 24×7. When Google was about to introduce
Gmail and YouTube, they knew that their
data storage system wasn’t adequate. The head of the engineering group
and the infrastructure group at that time was a man named Bill Coughran. Bill and his leadership team,
who he referred to as his brain trust, had to figure out what to do
about this situation. They thought about it for a while. Instead of creating a group
to tackle this task, they decided to allow groups
to emerge spontaneously around different alternatives. Two groups coalesced. One became known as Big Table, the other became known
as Build it From Scratch. Big Table proposed
that they build on the current system. Build it From Scratch proposed
that it was time for a whole new system. Separately, these two teams
were allowed to work full time on their particular approach. In Engineering Reviews,
Bill described his role as injecting honesty into the process
by driving debate. Early on, the teams were encouraged
to build prototypes so that they could “Bump them up against reality
and discover for themselves the strengths and weaknesses
of their particular approach.” When Build it From Scratch shared
their prototype with the group whose beepers would have to go off
in the middle of the night if something went wrong with the website, they heard loud and clear about
the limits of their particular design. As the need for a solution
became more urgent and as the data
or the evidence began to come in, it became pretty clear
that the Big Table solution was the right one for the moment. So they selected that one. But to make sure
that they did not lose the learning of the Build it From Scratch team, Bill asked two members of that team to join a new team that was emerging to work on the next generation system. This whole process took nearly two years, but I was told that they were
all working at breakneck speed. Early in that process, one of the engineers
had gone to Bill and said, “We’re all too busy
for this inefficient system of running parallel experiments.” But as the process unfolded,
he began to understand the wisdom of allowing talented
people to play out their passions. He admitted, “If you had forced us
to all be on one team, we might have focused on proving
who was right, and winning, and not on learning and discovering what was the best answer for Google.” Why is it that Pixar and Google
are able to innovate time and again? It’s because they have mastered
the capabilities required for that. They know how to do
collaborative problem solving, they know how to do
discovery driven learning, and they know how to do
integrated decision making. Some of you may be sitting there
and saying to yourselves right now, “We don’t know how to do
those things in my organization.” So why do they know how to
do those things at Pixar, and why do they know how to
do those things at Google? When many of the people
that worked for Bill told us, on their opinion, Bill was one
of the finest leaders in Silicon Valley. We completely agreed,
the man is a genius. Leadership is the secret sauce. But it’s a different kind of leadership, not the kind many of us think about when we think about great leadership. One of the leaders I met with
early on, said to me, “Linda, I don’t read books on leadership. All they do is make me feel bad. In the first chapter they say
I’m supposed to create a vision. But if I’m trying to do something
that’s truly new, I have no answers. I don’t know what direction we’re going in and I’m not even sure I know
how to figure out how to get there.” For sure, there are times
when visionary leadership is exactly what is needed. But if we want to build organizations
that can innovate time and again, we must recast our understanding
of what leadership is about. Leading innovation
is about creating the space where people are willing and able
to do the hard work of innovative problem solving. At this point, some of you
may be wondering, what does that leadership
really look like? At Pixar, they understand
that innovation takes a village. The leaders focus on building
a sense of community and building those three capabilities. How do they define leadership? They say leadership
is about creating a world to which people want to belong. What kind of world do people
want to belong in at Pixar? A world where you’re living
at the frontier. What do they focus their time on? Not on creating a vision. Instead they spend
their time thinking about, how do we design a studio that has
a sensibility of a public square so that people will interact? Let’s put in a policy that anyone,
no matter what their level or role, is allowed to give notes to the director about how they feel
about a particular film. You know what,
what can we do to make sure that all the disruptors, all the minority voices
in this organization speak up and are heard? And, finally, let’s bestow credit
in a very generous way. I don’t know if you’ve ever looked
at the credits of a Pixar movie, but the babies born during
a production are listed there. (Laughter) How did Bill think about
what his role was? Bill said, “I lead
a volunteer organization. Talented people
don’t want to follow me anywhere. They want to co-create
with me the future. My job is to nurture the bottom up and not let it degenerate into chaos.” How did he see his role? I’m a role model,
I’m a human glue, I’m a connector,
I’m an aggregator of viewpoints. I’m never a dictator of viewpoints. Advice about how you exercise the role, hire people who argue with you. Sometimes it’s best to be
deliberately fuzzy and vague. Some of you may be wondering now, what are these people thinking? They are thinking, I’m not the visionary,
I’m the social architect. I’m creating the space
where people are willing and able to share and combine
their talents and passions. If some of you are worrying now
that you don’t work at a Pixar, or you don’t work at a Google, I want to tell you there’s still hope. We’ve studied many organizations that were not organization
you’d think of as ones where a lot of innovation happens. We studied a general counsel
in a pharmaceutical company who had to figure out how
to get the outside lawyers, 19 competitors,
to collaborate and innovate. We studied the head of marketing
at a German automaker where, fundamentally, they believed that it was the design
engineers, not the marketeers who were allowed to be innovative. We also studied Vineet Nayar
at HCL technologies, an Indian outsourcing company. When we met Vineet, his company was about,
in his words, to become irrelevant. We watched as he turned that company into a global dynamo of IT innovation. At HCL technologies,
like at many companies, the leaders had learned to see
their role as setting direction and making sure
that no one deviated from it. What he did is tell them
it was time for them to think about rethinking
what they were supposed to do. Because what was happening
is that everybody was looking up and you weren’t seeing
the bottom-up innovation we saw at Pixar or Google. So they began to work on that. They stopped giving answers,
they stopped trying to provide solutions. Instead, what they did
is they began to see the people at the bottom
of the pyramid, the young sparks, the people who were closest
to the customers, as the source of innovation. They began to transfer
the organization’s growth to that level. In Vineet’s language,
this was about inverting the pyramid so that you could unleash
the power of the many by loosening the strength
hold of the few and increase the quality
and the speed of innovation that was happening every day. For sure, Vineet
and all the other leaders that we studied were in fact visionaries. For sure, they understood
that that was not their role. I don’t think it is accidental
that many of you did not recognize Ed. Because Ed, like Vineet,
understands that our role as leaders is to set the stage, not perform on it. If we want to invent a better future, and I suspect that’s why
many of us are here, then we need to reimagine our task. Our task is to create the space where everybody’s slices of genius can be unleashed and harnessed, and turned into works
of collective genius. Thank you. (Applause)

26 thoughts on “How to manage for collective creativity | Linda Hill | TEDxCambridge”

  1. Great talk damn your a bad bitch lol
    I'm sure she's read the rational optimist by Matt ridley. Which is how prosperity evolves and yes innovation only happens when people work together and trade..trade materials and ideas…or to quote matt ridley.. WHEN IDEAS HAVE SEX

  2. I loved it!! Creative resolution is where most companies fail due to stagnant organizational approaches

  3. This is one of the best presentations on leadership and innovation I have ever seen. I am amazed how true this is in companies that are doing cool stuff. The hard work of innovation from collaborative problem solving is missing in many of the companies that struggle to improve.

  4. "Leading innovation is about creating the space where people are willing and able to do the hard work of innovation problem solving." "Leadership is about creating a world in which people want to belong."

  5. What a fantastic talk. A concise and insightful synthesis that will definitely have an impact on how I think about leadership. It really resonates.

  6. It seems to be the case that this shift of priorities is seen almost everywhere nowadays. There are many organizations that are almost decentralized, only held together by a central basis that promotes communication, encourages diversity and provides and coordinates resources. Parallel computing like in multi-core processors and cloud computing is about managing a system, where the manager is only there to coordinate and keep the system consistent. Most prominently, the internet is this incredible organic place, where all kinds of ideas emerge; they are shared, discussed, refined and combined with other ideas. The whole knowledge of humanity, interconnecting in new ways every second. And TED and TEDx are good examples for such coordinators.

    I envision that some day this concept may find its way into politics, but i doubt that any politician will happily give up his or her power. It saddens me to see that politics always lives in a time bubble that is way behind the rest of the world.

  7. Excuse me, please someone explain to me, cause she said that Creative Resolution, the innovators organizations dont compromise… i dont get it!

  8. It was a very interesting experience. Thank you very much for sharing! I see it from a totally different point of view now.

  9. I am so glad to hear this being taught. The Japanese have done this for years. I intend to hear more from Ms. Hill. God bless.

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