Garrison Wynn
Speaker, Consultant, Author

Garrison Wynn

Founder of Wynn Solutions, this keynote speaker is a former stand-up comedian and author of "The Real Truth About Success

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The collaboration of one

Q: A new book called "Where Good Ideas Come From" concludes that innovations usually occur when ideas from different people "bump against each other" and spawn a winning combination. But have you ever been struck with a great idea of your own making? If so, did it meet with resistance, and did it turn out to be a success?


People with different ideas who "bump up against each other" are much more likely to disagree than to collaborate! I agree with the book's theme that we piggyback on the ideas of our forefathers to create great innovations. I am paraphrasing in my own style, of course; if you read the book, you'll realize that author Steven Johnson would never use the term "piggyback," even if there was an actual person riding on his back.

But my question is this: How often does a committee come up with an idea so innovative that it changes the world?

Put another way, I think the most consistently innovative thing on earth is art; it is personal and groundbreaking, and it changes how we think and see the world. How many times have you seen more than one signature on a great painting? Or even on a kindergarten finger painting? My wife is a talented artist and I'm not even allowed in her studio! Apparently, my mere presence is viewed as unwanted collaboration.

Johnson cites innovative people such as Thomas Edison as well-known collaborators. Edison did give credit to others for their help. In fact, he bought so many patents that some people consider him a bit of a fraud (I don't!) ... but he was never known for saying he "co-invented" anything. Most personal accounts from those who knew him best say he was not a good listener while working on a project -- which makes perfect sense, considering he was deaf!

My point is not to criticize (OK, I am in fact making it a point to criticize). My point is to take a realistic look at the power of the human mind and an individual's ability to think and create something original. It might take the help of others to improve it or to implement it, but if the individual is not the source of great things, then why are we mentally and emotionally separate from our fellow human beings? Why aren't we just like "the Borg" (the enemy of the Star Trek crew with a collective mindset, pale complexion and some not-so-high-tech headgear)? And why were they called "the Borg"? Were they Swedish? The Swedish are a bit pale and not that talkative!

At any rate, I do believe we need to work together and I agree that creating teams is important (After all, I do earn a lot of my living as a keynote speaker). But let's be honest: People don't strike up partnerships unless they're not doing well or they've run out of innovative ideas. People like to partner with people like themselves, which is usually of zero value. We need to partner with people who are not like us -- people who can do what we cannot do on our own.

I once invented a product that is still sold in 30 countries, but the company I worked for at the time tried to shoot it down and then got a bunch of people to water it down, making it just like the competition's product. When my version worked and theirs failed, they all wanted to be my partners. So maybe collaboration works after all!

By Garrison Wynn  |  October 11, 2010; 5:10 PM ET  | Category:  Success and risk-taking Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I think this would have been a better article if you had written it with me. Just kidding!

I agree. I think part of the problem is that often, managers take credit for their employees' ideas - due to fear of being worthless as a manager or a person and fear of their underlings doing better than them.

It works the other way as well- it takes not only inspiration and the smarts to create a good idea that will work but also the guts to tell other people (especially superiors in a corporation).

Not everyone has these kinds of ideas and some people in corporations think everyone should be equal even though obviously they are not. Often these people are the ones who don't have incredible ideas or talents but they just don't want to feel bad about that.

In other words, lack of honesty and humility kills innovation in the corporation.

Posted by: OhMyGoodness1 | October 19, 2010 5:45 AM
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I actually find this article interesting and I too agree. I think everyone has great ideas to an extent and should try and pursue them with whatever it may be. I've had a share of my own ideas and interpreted them into simple things i enjoy, such as my art and pieces of my writings. I'm definitely not one to be collaborative with people, but I'm not saying that It's not good to hear an opinion or suggestion.

Posted by: Justluck | October 14, 2010 10:12 PM
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Garrison is right. Just exactly how often does a committee come up with an idea so innovative that it changes the world?

I think all of Ben Franklin's pals (which none of them were with him on the night of his experiment mind you) thought he was a nut job when he went outside in a storm and flew a kite. But the guy discovered electricity, which is now one of the most important things in our society. When it comes right down to it, if it weren't for Benjamin Franklin's "Collaboration of one", Thomas Edison's lights may not have ever come on.

Posted by: NateYencha | October 14, 2010 9:51 PM
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I agree with what you're saying about invention and inspiration. Those two things seem to come directly from an individual. Most of my good Ideas, of which I have had many, have been born of individual epiphany. However, in defense of the statement in the question about innovation, I can see where the collaborative can actually create. I think it takes a rare combination of individuals to make that occur and follow it through to a fruition. I have had some experiences where "My" idea only came from the "sounding board" effect of collaborative communication. I have also had that same idea somehow folded into someone else's just because they were a part of the conversation. The potential for ingenuity in a group setting can be extremely beneficial if the parties involved have a clear sense of honor among ideas. That is rare, and I would be hard pressed to spontaneously trust my co-workers with my own inventiveness.

Posted by: Rabbitsmoker | October 14, 2010 9:09 PM
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