Collective Genius

The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation

by Linda A. Hill

Number of pages: 298

Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press

BBB Library: Creativity and Innovation, Corporate Success

ISBN: 9781422130025

About the Author

Linda A. Hill is the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. She is the faculty chair of the Leadership Initiative and has chaired numerous HBS Executive Education programs, including the Young Presidents’ Organization Presidents’ Seminar and the High Potentials Leadership Program.


Editorial Review

Volumes of research were conducted on innovation, and as many or more on leadership, but almost nothing was done on the connection between the two. Why is this so? Perhaps practicing leaders and management thinkers have simply assumed a good leader in all other respects would be an effective leader of innovation as well. If that's the case, however, then there's a deeply flawed and even dangerous assumption. Leading innovation and what is widely considered good leadership are not the same. That leadership matters to innovation should come as no surprise. Look beneath the surface of almost anything produced by an organization that is new, useful, and even moderately complex, and you'll almost certainly discover it came from multiple hands, not the genius of some solitary inventor. Innovation is a team sport, as one leader said, in which individual effort becomes something more. Somehow, in the language we've come to use, truly innovative groups are consistently able to elicit and then combine members' separate 'slices of genius' into a single work of 'collective genius'. Creating and sustaining an organization capable of doing that again and again is what leaders should do.

Book Reviews

"Innovation requires integrating ideas—combining option A and option B, even if they once seemed mutually exclusive—to create a new and better option. It also requires that leaders be patient enough to let great ideas from people in all parts of the organization develop. At the same time, they must ensure that a sense of urgency and clear parameters allow integrative decision making to actually occur." Harvard Business Review

"The Introduction to Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation by Linda A. Hill, Greg Brandeau, Emily Truelove and Kent Lineback (Boston: Harvard BusinessReview Press, 2014) calls for a different kind of leader who creates organizations both willing and able to innovate. From that innocuous opening, this new study quickly moves to engage the challenges and complexities confronting those wanting to enable innovation." Forbes

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Wisdom to Share

Leading innovation and what is widely considered good leadership are not the same.

Leaders create collaborative organizations.

Most decisions are little more than the simple selection of one opinion, to the exclusion of all others.

Real creative resolutions happens infrequently.

The leader of innovation must find the delicate balance that fosters new ideas and ultimate results.

The right balance between patience and a sense of urgency can spur innovation.

They want people to try new things, and they set high standards for how carefully the experiments are done and analyzed.

Too much structure; rules, hierarchy, planning, and the like—will stifle innovation, but too little will produce chaos.

The best innovative solutions often combine ideas, including ideas once considered mutually exclusive.

Collaboration of diverse individuals produces healthy conflict, and that produces more and better ideas.

When alternatives compete they get better and competition often sparks new and better approaches.

When passionate, diverse people collaborate on solving a problem, differences, disagreements, and conflict are inevitable.

Don't confuse creative abrasion with brainstorming.

Innovative solutions rarely appear fully formed in a flash of insight.

That's why it works best when practiced by a diverse community whose members are bound by a common purpose, shared values.

Creative abrasion is the first of the three core capabilities that enable a group to innovate.

A desire to learn is at the core of the innovative process, especially collaboration and discovery.

Members of a true community share values.

No leader can declare a community.

Group-members are eager to do their part in supporting the vitality and advancing the cause of the group.

Its collective "we" helps define the "I" of each member.

A sense of community is powerful because it's about belonging and above all, identity.

People are willing to face the personal challenges of innovation when they feel part of a community.

Many managers found the postings far more relevant and actionable than the information they'd previously received in briefings from their superiors.

"I believe that if the CEO always thinks he is the owner and the doer, he will not accomplish things.

Many leaders who truly seek to foster innovation must start with abandoning the: "Follow me and I know the way!"

They neither understand nor feel comfortable with improvisation and autonomy that innovation requires.

Many leaders, of course, like structure because it provides the comfort of control.

Of course hierarchy can also impede the free flow of information and generation of diverse ideas.

Not every possibility can pursued. Nor are all possibilities worthwhile.

That innovation tends to emerge from trial and error makes it highly improvisational.

Many organizations dislike conflict in any form and try to discourage it.

People apparently prefer to believe in the rugged individualism of discovery.