Last week’s Sunday New York Times had this interesting article, The Rise of the New Groupthink, about the deficiencies of the creativity exercise, brainstorming. The author posited that solitude was the better method for inspiration. In other words, quiet time away from distractions to allow for reflection and creative expression. While the effectiveness of brainstorming as a generator of ideas has reasonable grounds for criticism, so does this monastic prescription. Surprisingly, few businesses leverage one of the most productive, enjoyable, simple and obvious creativity techniques ever known: Conversation.

Exchanging thoughts, opinions and experiences provides the ingredients for innovation.
Steven Johnson points out in his book, “Where Good Ideas Come From,” that Eureka! moments are rare. Johnson adapts Stuart Kauffman’s work on the adjacent possible, recognizing that adaptive, incremental innovation is the more common way that good, new ideas are born (read through my essay on conversation here for further reference). By considering a handful of known phenomena or a “collision of small hunches”, we can take a step into a new yet adjoining domain of insight and inspiration. Conversation is a key that can unlock that door to the adjacent possible and adaptive, incremental innovation.

Johnson identifies serendipity as another essential ingredient for innovation. Moreover, luck cannot be forced; thus the insistence in brainstorming or facilitated dialogue that discussion focus on a specific topic, problem or defined challenge imposes restrictions on serendipity before the process has even begun. Similar impositions on the sole innovator constrain their ability to allow what I regard as the mind’s vacation, where it wanders randomly along its own synapses, prompted by unconscious stimuli that baffle neuroscientists even now. Conversation inherently is open to the kind of drift toward unforeseen chance that is a fertile area for good ideas to grow from.

In short, conversation lies freely and effortlessly between the individual and group’s directed creativity. It is a fundamental source of innovation and must be considered by any business that considers itself a place where an innovation environment is, or should be, present.