Innovative teams need diversity

Nancy Napier, director of the Centre for Creativity and Innovation at Boise State University, gave a talk recently about a what she calls ‘The Gang’. Imagine bringing to together a group of business leaders from an american football team, a law enforcement agency, a health information provider, a dance company, a theatre company, a software vendor and a marketing firm! The amazing part is that the gang meet regularly, they listen to and learn from each other, and they have a track record of innovation that goes way beyond the borders of small town Boise, Idaho.

Here are some of their ground breaking ideas:

  • The Trey McIntyre dance group decided to setup in a small town of 250k, and not in New York. Why? Imagine the switching cost for their dancers once they have moved out to the middle of nowhere…instead of walking across the road when the going gets tough these dancers stick with it.
  • The Ada County Sheriff’s Office (which includes the county jail) decided to start using Skype from laptops in place of prison visits. Prisoners can talk to their kids more often, with a ceiling in the background (and not someone in an orange suit), and at a fraction of the cost of maintaining all that toughened glass you normally see in a visiting room
  • The local football team now invite students to “innovate at Boise state”, where they will find unique approaches to recruitment, training and play. The team is one of the best in the country
  • The local theatre chose to open up sponsorship to the whole town, and not just a couple of big name brands. For a small charge, you get your name engraved somewhere in the building. And the town love it

So how does the gang get such incredible results? Hearing Nancy speak, it seemed to me that their results centred around their ability to listen and their drive to adapt ideas from outside of the walls of their own organisation. Instead of saying “that wouldn’t work for me” the gang say ‘how can I go one better than that’. We heard about the gang’s simple definition of innovation

“We do things differently, to get better”


For me, this was the key takeaway from the talk. Innovation is all well and good when you are trying to come up with new ideas, but for real results you need to have a solid drive to add value. Focusing on “how can I do things better” seems to me to be a great way to focus your efforts. Couple that with a genuine desire to learn from those around you (particularly when those people are inspiring innovators from radically different fields) and you have a recipe for success that far exceeds expectations.



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