“Cross over” to increase innovation

different5Part of the MnSCU competency on valuing diversity states that leaders should “actively seek out and invite alternative viewpoints in planning, discussions, and decision making.” I recently saw an article that reminded me that this is not only the right thing to do, but it also is a business necessity.

GE’s Beth Comstock recently wrote a blog post about the value of “crossing over” to new disciplines in order to increase innovation and creativity. Crossing over occurs when ideas or knowledge from one field is used in a completely different field. Some of her examples included:

  • NASA didn’t purchase the Apollo space suits from standard aerospace contractors. Instead, they worked with Playtex, which had a strong knowledge base in designing and constructing garments contoured to fit the human body.
  • The initial idea for pacemakers rose from a chance lunch meeting between two cardiologists and an engineering student.
  • In less than a month, players of the video game Foldit, which simulates protein folding, were able to answer questions about the molecular structure of HIV/AIDS that medical researchers had been working on for a decade.
  • Oil companies are using medical ultrasound technology to monitor pipelines for leaks, and airlines use it to monitor jet engine parts for metal fatigue.

Comstock recommends building intentional opportunities for conversation among different parts of an organization. She also provided a personal challenge: read a magazine or journal from a field you don’t know and try to connect the dots to something you are working on.

In my own work, I’ve gained a great deal of practical knowledge by studying research that applies principles of neuroscience to people’s behavior in the workplace. By learning more about how our brains generate predictable responses to change and stress, we can create appropriate leadership strategies.

How could “crossing over” help in your work?

Dee Anne Bonebright


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