Got Good Ideas?

Who you are connected to matters in a whole bunch of ways.

New research into the nature and the role of networks of relationships has demonstrated that there are correlations between our physical fitness and the physical fitness of those around us; our likelihood of divorce has similar correlations; and even the vitality of our immune system is influenced by the people with whom we surround ourselves.

The people around us are one of the filters through which we get ideas and information. They even play a role in our determination of how we feel about those ideas and pieces of information.

I think that even though we do have some appreciation for the importance of friendships and other types of personal and professional relationships in our life, we tend to take a passive approach toward the makeup of our network of relationships. We know the people who are conveniently around us, but don’t make much effort in cultivating relationship with people who bring different perspective.

Ronald Burt conducted some interesting research around innovation and published a fascinating paper called “The Social Origin of Good Ideas.” Similar to some of the messages of Malcolm Gladwell, Steven Johnson, James Surowiecki, Jeff Howe, Frans Johansson, and others, Burt reminds us that diversity is a key ingredient in feeding creation and innovation.

What I love about this particular study is that it just looks at relationships within an organization. Employees who had the greatest diversity in their network of relationships (inside the organization) were at “greater risk of having a good idea.” They submitted the most ideas for the improvement of something, and they submitted the best ideas for the improvement of something. Their peers who had relationships with people primarily in their same functional area and at their same level submitted fewer ideas and lower quality ideas.

Do you have a variety of relationships with people from other departments or divisions of your organization? Do you have relationships with people from different hierarchical levels, different geographic locations?

Pretty easy to fix if you do not. Pick up the phone. Ask to attend other department meetings from time to time. Once a month invite someone from a different team to have lunch with you. Try to develop a personal connection with at least one person from every functional area and every geographic location that your organization has.

You might just find yourself at higher risk of having a good idea.

Be good to each other.

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