Founding Collaborative Intelligence & Innovation on ‘Purpose’

by Kieran Flanagan and Dan Gregory


A new intelligence is required in workplaces today. It’s collaborative intelligence, or, as we prefer to call it, We-Q™. We-Q is not how smart or emotionally developed we are as individuals; rather, it is how intelligent we are mentally, emotionally and socially as a collective — and it is a crucial skill for all kinds of business in the digital age.

The reality of this world is, we do very little on our own anymore. The small village where a single person was responsible for an entire process no longer exists, at least not in the developed world. Today, we are more likely to be responsible for a small portion of a much larger task. There are simply more moving parts in our chains, more complications in our processes, and more interconnected fields to be expert in.

The Myth of Solo Success

Despite our reliance on each other, we are still enamored with this notion of solo success. Our histories and legends are populated with archetypal stories of the lone hero on a noble quest. Stories include those of Homer, the ancient Greek story-teller; The Lone Ranger; and even Sir Edmund Hilary’s quest to summit Everest. In reality, almost no one who climbs Everest does so without a Sherpa as a guide — Hilary relied on Tenzing Norgay. Not to mention the folks who manufactured their oxygen tanks, their thermal equipment, boots, water canteens and the like.

Even the modern business world looks to the solo hero for inspiration. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Sir Richard Branson are prime examples. While undeniably successful and impressive, they are by no means solo heroes. Each had enormous teams and talent working with them as they built their empires. The truth is, every hero requires a team behind him or her, and that makes We-Q vital.

We-Q Is Good for Business

Cognitive diversity leads to better ideas. When different points of view and varied ways of thinking come together with a common purpose, it challenges our thinking and assumptions. It makes us all smarter.

Cognitive diversity also leads to better business results. Differing points of views and ways of seeing the world help us make more informed decisions, give us lines of vision homogenous teams are blind to and offer alternative ideas and strategies from those based on our individual experience.

Various case studies from around the world confirm time and time again that businesses with more diverse boards and executive teams — in other words, a higher We-Q — outperform those with less diverse leadership.

The following tips will help businesses develop their We-Q.

Use Co-PIs, not just KPIs. Too often in business, we find performance metrics within a single organization that are set up in direct opposition to each other. For example, call centers may be told customer satisfaction is important — “Give them customer service so amazing that they will want to tell their friends about it.” — but another KPI might be “Get them off the phone really, really fast.” These KPI’s are contradictory, and it is not surprising that someone in this scenario fails. Zappos realized this and now rewards staff for time spent on the phone with their customers. Co-PIs are congruent, achievable and reward entire teams, not just the individuals.

Stop hiring versions of yourself. We tend to hire people we like and feel comfortable with because they think similarly to us. True diversity requires looking beyond the obvious — such as gender, culture and race — and seeking instead thinking styles and strategic approaches that may even make us a little nervous or uncomfortable because they are different from our own.

Embrace differences and promote debate. Our workplaces are often too polite, and this faux politeness can be dangerous. If we filter our real opinions and shun constructive disagreements, we miss out on testing the rigor of our thinking. We also put our businesses at risk of suffering from contextual blindness. Just like the fabled emperor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” no one is brave enough to say, “That is a bad idea.” We need to bring debate back to our businesses and foster more useful disagreement.

Collaborate outside your category. Business leaders should consider thinking beyond their own category and build a team of thinkers from other parts of the business world. The Great Ormond Street Hospital in London did just this. To improve the quality of patient transfers from the operating theater to intensive care, they decided that, instead of calling in medical experts, they would call in the head of Ferrari’s Formula-1 Pit Crew. In doing so, they were able to use an objective pair of eyes to substantially improve their procedures and reduce complications.


How to Innovate on Purpose

What most people fail to realize when it comes to innovation is that creativity is a discipline and we need to apply rigor to it if we are to generate useful thinking.

Start with the business purpose on the business’s purpose. What we need is more “Innovation on Purpose.” Innovation on Purpose is innovation that is aligned with a business’s goals and the core identity of its organization. Having a clearly defined reason for being is vital to a business’s success. Why does the business exist? What is it truly selling? These are the questions that help establish clarity of purpose.

A purpose is a reason to show up to work, to do the job. It’s not a long-winded flowery statement that no one can possibly remember. “Making technology humanly intuitive,” “Making public transport awesome,” “Helping people preserve memories” are all examples of purposes that staff and customers can truly buy into and that suggest the way forward for innovation.

Great purposes make innovation possible because they define the parameters in which we play and help us decide what we should or should not launch A company that “makes transport awesome” would not launch a bed. A business that makes technology more humanly intuitive would not create something that was complicated to use and understand.

Link it to a shared purpose. Shared purpose unites people. Communities and businesses with a common belief can overcome differences and work together productively and collaboratively. It’s worth spending time developing a purpose that everyone in the team and business can get behind.

To do this requires knowing what business one is really in. Surprisingly, many businesses do not know this. Recently, we were working with a group of optometrists and we asked this simple question of them: “What business are you in?” They said, “Medical services, of course.” So we enquired as to how they made their money, where their cash flow was derived. They told us the majority of their income came not from the consults they performed but from the frames they sold. We then suggested that they were not in medical services as they had imagined, but were in fact in retail fashion. That was a business-altering moment.

Learn to create “deliberately” on purpose. Creativity is typically not the random event or flash of inspiration that we see in movies and read in books. It is a discipline, a muscle to be developed and exercised regularly if it is to be turned into a business asset. Purpose gives direction to our innovation, our businesses and our workplaces. And today, we need to make this purpose easy to share and simple to adopt. When we do so, we empower our people to build our businesses in a consistent way — and this, not surprisingly, contributes greatly to our organization’s We-Q.

Kieran Flanagan & Dan Gregory, authors of Selfish, Scared & Stupidare behavioral researchers and strategists who specialize in behaviors and belief systems — what drives, motivates and influences us. Passionate advocates for the commercial power of creativity and a return to more human engagement, cultures and leadership, they have won business awards around the world for innovation, creativity and ROI working with such organizations as Coca-Cola, Unilever, News Corp and the United Nations in Singapore. 


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