Virginia Bianco-Mathis
University professor, author

Virginia Bianco-Mathis

Business department chair of management programs at Marymount University and author of two books on executive coaching.

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Inspiration is just a start

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?

It is fairly common knowledge that there are two major parts of the brain--one part that tends to be more creative, open, spontaneous, and free-flowing; and the other more logical, pragmatic, and structured. There are also many psychological and personality tests that can discern which side of the brain you favor. Of course, we all have the ability to use both sides, yet we each tend to favor one side or the other.

Thus, you have a leader who might be the one that comes up with all the ideas and visions but doesn't have the patience or proclivity to develop a cogent plan to get there. This leader then learns he/she must lean on the talents of many bright managers who love to work in the world of charts, spreadsheets, and administration. It is this combination of factors within groups, societies, government, and even families that allow successful ideas to be discussed, tested, researched, and brought to fruition.

In my practice -- both as an executive and a coach of executives -- I find this dynamic at play constantly. I don't think this is an "either-or" situation; rather, I think it is a matter of degree.

I can come up with my own idea and write a fantastic book in an isolated cottage in the woods of Maine without physically interacting with anyone else. Yet, I will be constantly testing and sparring with my own brain as I read the research and ideas of other authors, search the web for clarifying data, read the newspaper to gain insights and perspective, and study the notes of my editors. This, of course, is a more "on my own" idea than if I were sitting in an office brainstorming with a room full of writers, but the result is the same. I am bouncing and bumping my ideas off of others.

Of course, we all can point to a time where we got a better grade on a project in school when we were allowed to work independently than when we were forced to work in a group with a bunch of loafers. And yes, the same can probably be said to be true in the workplace. Yet, I think that is not the kind of dynamic we are talking about here. A good leader learns, over time, how to manage those group situations -- even with loafers -- to come out with a good product.

Have I ever had an innovative idea of my own and run with it? I might have had an innovative idea or two in my life, but it didn't go anywhere until I engaged with others in order to "get it out there" and make it a success.

If I wish to have an audience, then I must use both sides of my brain and solicit the input and help of others to make sure both skills sets (creativity and structure) are brought to the table. I hate to bring up such a trite riddle, but: "Does a tree make a sound in woods if it falls and no one is around to hear it?"

Does an innovative idea go anywhere if it stays in the head of the individual who conceived it? A great artist is not "great" until someone finds her paintings in the attic of her estate upon her death.

Ironically, the answer is imbedded in the question: "did you ever have an innovative idea and try to run with it" and "what resistance did you have when you tried to run with it?" If you are running into resistance, you are interacting and incorporating the ideas of others. The very act of trying to push your idea causes constant morphing of the idea as it bounces to eventual success (even though you might not live long enough to see that success!).

So it is a personal choice -- do you want to interact with others during the innovative process itself, or do you want to interact with the thoughts of others as you try to work your idea through the system? Either way, both sides of the brain are going to have their say.

By Virginia Bianco-Mathis  |  October 11, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Success and risk-taking Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Shed ideas -- and grow | Next: A winning concept

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